Sunday, May 24, 2015

Louisville's PharMerica is still a defendant in federal cases in which big drug makers have paid billions in fines

Abbott Laboratories has paid billions, and Amgen Inc. has paid millions, in fines for offering "rebates" or "kickbacks" to get pharmacy companies to increase their prescriptions of drugs in nursing homes, and PharMerica Corp. of Louisville is the remaining defendant in both civil cases, according to a detailed report by James McNair at the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

PharMerica manages drug benefits for nursing homes, hospitals and assisted living facilities. McNair paints a dismal picture of nursing homes and says they are ripe for this type of abuse, writing that they house "people with age-weakened bodies, multiple ailments and, often, severe mental impairment. Many are over-medicated. Many have no visitors. A third of them will die within a year of admission." (Click on chart for larger version)

McNair notes that a whistleblower lawsuit first called attention to Abbott Labs, which pled guilty in 2012 to a criminal charge, settled civil kickback and fraud claims, and paid $1.5 billion in fines for its role in paying millions of dollars in "rebates" to get pharmacy companies to increase prescriptions for an anti-seizure drug, Depakote, for uses beyond its Food and Drug Administration approval. Medicaid payments for this drug "went on to top $7 billion," McNair reports.

Amgen also enlisted these same pharmacy companies to promote its anemia drug, Aranesp, for uses beyond its FDA approval, and after pleading guilty settled civil kickback and fraud charges and paid a total of $762 million in fines.

These two cases brought more government attention to such schemes, which are "standard practice in the pharmaceutical industry," and also on the pharmacy companies that are on the receiving end of the payoffs, McNair writes.

McNair describes PharMerica as the "second-biggest operator of nursing home pharmacies in the country" and writes that it had " $1.9 billion in revenue last year," making it the "10th-biggest publicly traded company in Kentucky, according to rankings by The Lane Report." Since 2007, the chief executive has been Gregory Weishar (pronounced WISH-er) .

Companies like PharMerica, and its larger competitor Cincinnati-based Omnicare Inc., act on behalf of the nursing homes, buying drugs from the pharmaceutical companies in bulk and then dispensing them under the supervision of "consultant pharmacisits," McNair reports.

The Abbott Labs and Amgen lawsuits assert that PharMerica gave "certain drugs to nursing home patients in return for drug company kickbacks, not because they were the "right medication."" McNair reports that the suits were filed by drug company insiders who have knowledge of these payoffs disguised as "rebates" or "discounts."

"PharMerica denies the claims," writes McNair. But the company has been in this type of case many times since 2005, McNair reports: It has agreed to pay $40 million in fines to settle federal complaints, five additional closed cases connected to this company.

McNair also reports that just last week, the Justice Department said PharMerica will pay $31.5 million for dispensing addictive painkillers to nursing home patients without prescriptions, then falsely billing Medicare. As part of this settlement, PharMerica also agreed to a five year "corporate integrity agreement," which McNair notes later in the article are rarely enforced.

McNair goes on to list the details of several other cases PharMerica has been involved in, one of them "deemed so flagrant that the inspector general sought to ban PharMerica from federal health-care programs for 10 years."

PharMerica declined to make its executives available for an interview with the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting but said in a statement: “PharMerica is committed to outstanding compliance and the highest standards of ethical conduct, and we are diligent in ensuring that we comply with all applicable law and regulation,”

Jan Scherrer, vice president of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, a non-profit advocacy group based in Lexington, told McNair that the CEOs of companies involved in kickback schemes should be held personally accountable, "These are not victimless crimes," he said.

“It’s the same players -- PharMerica and Omnicare,” Scherrer continued. “They keep doing this over and over and over, and all they get is a fine. And for them that fine is nothing more than the cost of doing business.” (Read more of this detailed report by clicking here.)

State health commissioner backs needle exchanges, most controversial part of anti-heroin legislation passed this year

The Kentucky General Assembly cracked down in 2012 on "pill mills" that dispense painkillers irresponsibly, and addicts responded by going for heroin, creating a big problem in much of the state. The 2015 legislature passed laws to crack down on heroin, including local needle-exchange programs, the most controversial feature of the package.

In a column distributed to Kentucky newspapers, state Health Commissioner Stephanie Mayfield defends and promotes the local programs, which are subject to local approval.

“To some, a needle exchange may sound like a program that helps intravenous drug users feed their habit,” Mayfield writes. “To the contrary, the intent of an NEP is to protect public health and create a path for heroin users to get treatment while preventing the spread of diseases through the sharing of needles.

Needle exchanges reduce the number of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis cases in a community, Mayfield writes. "The use or even the accidental stick of a dirty needle can lead to hepatitis, HIV/AIDS infection and other dangerous diseases. . . . About 15 percent of all HIV cases that have occurred in Kentucky have been among injecting drug users."

Stephanie M. Gibson
Mayfield also says needle exchanges protecting people from accidental sticks from dirty needles discarded in public places. "Intravenous drug users submit dirty needles to the NEP for proper disposal in exchange for clean needles," she writes. "Researchers have also found that injecting drug users who participated in an exchange were more likely to reduce or stop injecting than drug users who had not participated in a needle exchange."

Research has also shown that needle exchanges "do not encourage the initiation of drug use nor do they increase the frequency of drug use among current users," Mayfield writes, noting that there are 203 such programs in 34 states.

"The presence of NEPs in communities does not expand drug-related networks nor does it increase crime rates. . . . Needle exchange programs actually create a path for injecting drug users to get help because the programs offer information on how to find available treatment options. In fact, NEP participants are more likely to enter a drug treatment program than nonparticipants."

More recent studies show that needle exchanges "provide opportunities for disease testing and education leading to a decline of at-risk behaviors, resulting in HIV incidence dropping as much as 80 percent within this population," Mayfield writes. "Many Kentucky communities are desperate for the ability to reach out to members who suffer from addiction, to help slow the spread of diseases and provide treatment referrals to people they might otherwise never have the chance to reach. This law gives them that opportunity."

Many Americans still don't use sunscreen, which has been proven to prevent skin cancer, the most common cancer in the U.S.

Sunscreen has been proven to reduce the risk for all types of skin cancer and to prevent or delay signs of aging, but most Americans still don't use it regularly, according to a new study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, found that only 14 percent of men and 30 percent of women regularly use sunscreen both on their face and other exposed areas. It also showed that more than 40 percent of men and 27 percent of women never use sunscreen on their face or other areas of exposed skin when outdoors for an hour or more, Carrie Myers reports for HealthDay News.

"The overwhelming majority of melanomas -- the deadliest form of skin cancer -- and non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun," Dr. Deborah Sarnoff, senior vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation, told Myers. "That's why daily sun protection is critical," she said.

The foundation recommends that when you are out in the sun you should seek shade, wear protective clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat, wear UV-blocking sunglasses and wear a broad-spectrum daily sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher and is water-resistant,of which you should check the expiration date, Sarnoff told Myers.

The study also found that nearly 40 percent of sunscreen users didn't know whether their sunscreen provided broad-spectrum protection.

"Broad-spectrum means that the sunscreen protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are responsible for sunburns, while UVA rays go deeper into the skin, causing sagging and wrinkling. It is believed that both UVA and UVB rays play a role in skin cancer," Myers writes.

"To take advantage of the full protection your sunscreen offers, it should be applied thickly to all exposed skin and reapplied every two hours and after swimming, sweating, and toweling off," Dawn Holman, lead author of the study, told Myers. "Sunscreen is most effective when paired with other forms of sun protection."

Holman recommended products with physical blocks, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, for those who shy away from sunscreens because they fear the chemicals in them. She also told Myers that everyone should avoid midday sun exposure because that is when the UV rays are most intense and encouraged people to check the UV index before going outdoors, saying, "The higher the UV index, the more sun protection you will need."

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, according to the CDC. The most severe form, melanoma, causes more than 9,000 deaths a year in the United States, Myers reports.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Congress is taking on opoid abuse and the nationwide increase in drug overdoses

Federal officials have become increasingly concerned about the rapid increase in drug overdoses across the country. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, in a series of hearings on the topic, is looking at how states are dealing with this problem. The next meeting is scheduled Thursday, May 28.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, in a bipartisian effort, wrote a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell this week, asking her to call on the surgeon general to address opoid abuse and made a request for more information regarding its recently announced initiative to reduce opoid-related deaths and addictions, according to a press release.
"This crisis of opioid related overdoses strikes without regard to geography, age, race, or socio-economic status and it requires an immediate and sustained response," McConnell said in a statement, calling opioid abuse a "public health crisis."

In the final hours of the last legislative session, Kentucky passed a bipartisan heroin bill that included an emergency clause for it to take effect immediately. This new law allows judicial discretion to determine if low-level traffickers should go to jail or be ordered to treatment; stronger sentencing for high-volume dealers; increased money for treatment; optional needle exchange programs; a "good Samaritan" provision; and increased access to Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose.

Opoid-related overdose deaths are largely caused by prescription drug and heroin.

In Kentucky, of the 722 deaths autopsied in 2013, 230, or 32 percent, were attributed to heroin, compared to 143, or 20 percent in 2012, according to the 2013 Overdose Fatality Report.

Nationwide, the death rate from painkiller overdoses nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2013 and heroin related deaths increased by 39 percent and the number of Americans seeking treatment for painkiller addiction has increased by 900 percent since 1997, according to the release.

Indiana's health commissioner, Jerome Adams, is scheduled to speak at Thursday's House committee meeting to discuss the state's recent HIV and hepatitis C outbreaks, which is tied to needle sharing among drug users. Adams will discuss the state's needle exchange programs, which was put in place to help combat this problem.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Video streaming for consultation with doctors expands and becomes more popular; 2 Ky. insurers use it and another plans to

In the past, people had to go to the emergency room to receive medical attention if they required it outside the usual hours for doctors. Now telemedicine programs such as KentuckyOne Health's "Anywhere Care" and Anthem BlueCross BlueShield's "LiveHealth Online," Kentuckians can access a doctor 24/7 through a computer or mobile device.

Photo from The Lane Report
"Patients like telemedicine because it's fast and easy to use and cheaper because it's a low-overhead service," Esther Zunker writes for The Lane Report, a Lexington-based business magazine.

UnitedHealthCare, a Minnesota-based health benefits provider for many people in Kentucky, plans to cover Skype-based doctor visits through "NowClinic," "Doctor on Demand" and "American Well." Anywhere Care and Live Health Online give clients a list of certified doctors they can chat with through video on a computer or a mobile device. The doctors can provide diagnosis and treatment and even write a prescription. They can direct patients to an emergency department if necessary.

It's affordable, too. A LiveHealth Online appointment costs the same as an office visit for eligible members. LiveHealth doctors usually charge $49 per online "visit." Anywhere Care costs $35 per visit, even if patients don't have insurance.

"As we know, care can be limited and is based on being able to get someplace when [a doctor] has an opening," said John Jesser, Anthem's vice president of provider engagement strategy. "They only have certain hours, and that doesn't always work for when people don't feel well. [Telemedicine] expands access to care for the consumers, making it much more friendly to their schedule and lifestyles."

Telemedicine is also convenient for doctors. It saves money for hospitals and allows one doctor in one location to help patients in a variety of locations. Patients can receive help with chronic conditions over periods of time without having to travel to the doctor's office.

"We've had amazingly positive feedback from patients who have tried this service," said Kathy Love, director of strategy and business development for KentuckyOne Health's Central East Kentucky Market. "People have told me they've used it multiple times when they've needed it . . . either late at night or over the weekend."

She also said people who use telemedicine still need a primary-care physician: "It's something you can access 24 hours a day with a very minimal wait and very professional providers, but it shouldn't replace your very important relationship with your primary-care doctor." (Read more)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Deep in the brain may lie the secret of why some smokers quit easily and some find it nearly impossible

When a person tries to quit smoking, the cravings, headaches and lethargy that come from the nicotine withdrawal makes it near impossible for many to be successful. But this lack of success could also be a result of how a smoker's brain is wired, according to a study from Duke University.

The study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, used magnetic resonance imaging to look at the brain activity of 85 smokers who smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day.

Image from CNN (Click on it to see a larger version)
MRI revealed that "people who had stronger connections between two regions of the brain -- one involved in reward and the other in controlling impulsive behavior-- were more likely to be successful at giving up smoking, at least for 10 weeks," Carina Storrs reports for CNN.

"This is the largest study to date where we've attempted to identify neural markers, or predictors, of later success in quitting smoking," Joseph McClernon, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke, who led the current study, told Storrs.

The scans were taken one month before the quit date. Then, on their quit date, participants were given nicotine patches and were asked to check in with the researchers to report any relapses over the following 10 weeks.

The study found that the "key difference" was that those who were able to quit had more activity in the insula, a prune-sized section that lies deep in the brain, than those who did not quit.

Researchers can't explain why,but speculate that the insula "acts like a bridge, connecting the reward region with the behavior control regions," Storrs reports, noting that it has also been linked to other types of drug addictions such as alcoholism.

This study offers hope that doctors might come to identify smokers who have poor connectivity in their insula and offer them treatment to strengthen this connectivity. That could be good news for Kentucky, where almost 30 percent of adults smoke and many are trying to quit. Forty-five percent of Kentuckians reported in the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System that they had tried to quit in 2012.

Jonathan Foulds, professor of public health sciences and psychiatry at Penn State, was not so hopeful, telling Storrs that not enough is known about specific treatments to tell whether they will increase insula connectivity, and that any such treatments will likely "not be affordable options anyway."

One of every three U.S. adults have a combination of risk factors that increase their risk for heart disease and diabetes

More than one-third of adults in the U.S. have a combination of health conditions that put them at higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, and this condition affects nearly half of adults aged 60 and older, according to a new study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This combination of health conditions, when found in one person, is called metabolic syndrome. It includes abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, increased fasting glucose levels and abnormal cholesterol levels.

The study collected data gathered by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from adults 20 and older from 2003 to 2012. It found that about a third had a metabolic symdrome in 2011-12, and nearly half of those 60 and older did. Among those 20 to 39, the rate was 18 percent.

The study report says these were "concerning observations" because of the country's aging population. Hispanics, at 39 percent, were found to have the highest prevalence of metabolic syndrome among ethnic groups. Women had a higher prevalence than men in all age groups.

The American Heart Association says the best way to control the risk factors contributing to metabolic syndrome are to lose weight and increase physical activity. It also encourages patients to routinely monitor their weight, blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure and treat these risk factors according to established guidelines.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Regan Hunt, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, leaves for a new position at insurer Humana Inc.

The executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, a group that worked for the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is now working for Humana Inc. as a product development consultant.

Regan Hunt
Regan Hunt switched jobs after working in a way that won her the Consumer Health Advocate of the Year Award by Families USA, which cited her work for expansion of Medicaid in Kentucky and her efforts to increase health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. In her new job, she will be a product development consultant, working on design of benefits for those covered by the Medicaid expansion.

During her time at KVH, Hunt worked with a coalition of more than 200 partners to address the many health care needs of Kentuckians, including access, prevention, quality and value. Hunt said in an interview that she was most proud of  KVH's role in enrolling so many Kentuckians in coverage during 2013-15.

"Kentucky is one of those states that did it right," she said.

Hunt said that she was also proud of the group's collaboration between Gov. Steve Beshear, the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services: "We all worked together and that was an amazing thing ... all working together to make sure that people got the information that they needed and got covered. ... It was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing." KVH is not a lobbying group, but many of its members are.

At Humana, Hunt will research the Medicaid expansion landscape in other states to determine what new beneficiaries that population might need or want in a benefits package, beyond what is required by law.

"I am an advocate, probably until the day I die," she said, noting that she will now work as an individual advocate, instead of under the umbrella of KVH, to help people gain access to health coverage. "I've been doing that since I was 22, so it is not something that I am going to give up doing."

Hunt is a native of Pike County, She earned her undergraduate degree at Transylvania University and her Masters in Public Administration degree from the University of Kentucky. She also holds a certificate in health-care management from the University of North Carolina, according to the KVH website.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lexington Herald-Leader says Kentucky Hospital Association report on members' finances damages the group's credibility

The Kentucky Hospital Association's recent "Code Blue" report on its members' finances is a symptom of "financial hypochondria," the Lexington Herald-Leader said in a long editorial Sunday. It said the title, "signaling a patient needs resuscitation, is an unintentionally fitting title because the KHA's credibility could use a little CPR."

Read more here:

The report "voices a universal human desire: more money, less accountability. The association implies that federal financial penalties aimed at reducing harm to patients are too onerous for hospitals that care for Kentuckians," the editorial says. "Little more than anecdotes are offered with no acknowledgment that some Kentucky hospitals are recording record bottom lines and steep drops in uncompensated care."

The newspaper offered its own anecdote, a large one, noting that the University of Kentucky's medical center is a major beneficiary of the Medicaid expansion under federal health reform: "The 2014 period saw an 83 percent drop in non-paying inpatients, a 66 percent drop in non-paying outpatients and a $60 million increase in Medicaid revenue. UK Healthcare's annual net income through March is up $70 million over the same time last year. Not all of that increase is due to the Medicaid expansion or Kynect," the state exchange for enrolling in Medicaid or buying private insurance.

"The important point," the paper says, is that "Slowing down spending on hospital care is one of the best things we can do for the economy and our health. The United States spends the highest percentage of its GDP on health care of any country but gets worse outcomes. Even by U.S. standards, Kentuckians over-utilize hospital care."

Read more here:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

CDC says SOAR should focus on substance abuse, obesity and diabetes; idea of mountaintop mining study is largely ignored

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Shaping Our Appalachian Region, the bipartisan effort to revitalize and diversify Eastern Kentucky's economy, will focus its health efforts on substance abuse, obesity and diabetes, SOAR Executive Director Jared Arnett told Kentucky Health News.

"We believe they have the greatest impact on our ability to create jobs and build a world class workforce," Arnett said in an email. He said David Roberts of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, determined the priorities after spending three months at the SOAR office in Pikeville.

The priorities differ from those put forth by SOAR's Health Working Group, which made two major recommendations after a series of public forums: a coordinated health program in schools, and a study of the health effects of large-scale surface mining. However, when SOAR published the working groups' ideas a few weeks later, it listed only the "shortest-term recommendations" and did not include the mining study. No recommendations appear on the health group's webpage.

At the health session of SOAR's "Strategy Summit" May 11, Dee Davis of the Whitesburg-based Center for Rural Strategies asked the moderator/presenter, Jennifer "Jenna" Seymour of the CDC, what if anything was being done about the recommendation. Seymour replied that she wasn't aware of it, Al Cross reported for the Appalachian Kentucky page of The Rural Blog.  

"That dismayed me," Cross writes. Later, upon raising his hand and being recognized by Seymour, he told her and the audience that it was "disconcerting and almost unbelievable" that she was unaware of the recommendation about mountaintop mining. Seymour replied that she had, in fact, heard about it.

Cross wrote, "Noting that the Pike County Fiscal Court Room was nearly full, I told Seymour that a lot of people had attended meetings and made their concerns known, and that even though this issue was "a hot potato," because of the coal industry's role, she needed to "go back to the powers that be, and tell them there's a room full of people who want answers."

Cross wrote that he was not for or against a study on the health effects of mountaintop mining, and " Unless they're writing opinion pieces, journalists aren't supposed to take sides," he wrote. "But they do need to speak up when issues of broad community concern aren't being addressed, especially when those concerns have been solicited."

The SOAR working groups concluded their meetings last summer and submitted their final reports. Since then, the SOAR executive board has decided to launch a SOAR Advisory Council and hold annual roundtables, or more as needed. They have made a request for a community health representative to be appointed to serve on this council, and Arnett said he expects this person to be appointed by June 1 or so. 

In addition, a follow-up CDC representative will be assigned to the SOAR office for one year beginning in late summer to help put together a strategic plan to address the three areas of focus recommended by the CDC at the summit. This person will also lead a Community Health Action Team for SOAR to work on building a blueprint for improved public health in the region, Arnett said.

"We are focused on working with our corporate partners and the Community Health roundtable to address these issues identified by the CDC on what can have the broadest reach and the greatest impact," Arnett said. A full report of all of the CDCs recommendations is expected in the near future, he said.

Law requires equal access to mental-health and drug-abuse treatment, but is not always obeyed; Ky. says it's working on issue

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

By law, mental health benefits must be offered equally to medical and surgical benefits if the plan offers them, but this isn't always the case.

Not only does a 2008 federal law require most employer-sponsored plans to provide equal access to mental health benefits, but that parity was expanded and strengthened in 2010 by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Twenty-three states, including Kentucky since 2000, require some level of parity.

Common requirements of these laws prohibit insurers from charging higher co-payments and deductibles for mental-health services; require insurers to pay for mental-health treatment in the same scope and duration as medical treatments; ban insurers from requiring additional authorizations for mental-health services; and says they must offer an equal number of mental-health providers and approved drugs.

While insurers typically keep track of the copayment and deductible requirements, they struggle with keeping track of the compliance requirements related to actual delivery of medical services, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline.

The spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Insurance, Ronda Sloan, said in an e-mail that Kentucky is very diligent about parity requirements. "Kentucky insurance companies must cover mental-health treatment like other covered services," she wrote. "We review both provider networks and drug formularies for compliance and (make sure) both meet the requirements of the ACA."

A recent report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that this isn't always the case. Nearly one-third of those surveyed were denied authorization for mental health and substance abuse treatment, with this rate nearly twice as high for those on ACA plans.

It also found other barriers to care including the number of mental health providers in health insurance plan networks; more than half of the health plans analyzed covered less than 50 percent of anti-psychotic medications; high out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs; high co-pays, deductible and co-insurance rates; and a lack of information about mental health coverage to consumers to help them make informed decisions in choosing their health plans.

The survey was conducted by Avalere Health and is based on a survey of 2,720 individuals with mental illness or with someone in their family with mental illness and an analysis of 84 insurance plan drug formularies in 15 states.

Sloan said that in Kentucky, "Work is being done on many fronts to increase access and progress is being made to address some of the access issues."

She said Kentucky monitors provider networks to make sure they are meeting their minimum requirements. She also said that a recent law passed by the 2015 General Assembly, which created three levels of drug and alcohol counselors with varying degrees of  certification, will have a "positive impact" on access to treatment.

Gwenda Bond, spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in an e-mail, "We also opened the provider network for behavioral-health services in early 2014 to a range of private providers of such services, increasing the number of options available for members, who previously could only receive treatment through the community mental health centers."

One of the main obstacles for consumers and providers is that it is not clear what criteria insurance companies and managed-care Medicaid organizations use to determine medical necessity for mental-health and substance-abuse care, and aren't transparent with this information.

"Without that information," Ollove wrotes, "it is difficult for regulators and consumers to determine whether the denial of coverage is warranted." 

Ollove also notes other problems include the federal governments delay in creating regulation guidelines, the challenges states and the federal government have had in simply implementing the ACA, let alone regulating parity and the stigma that is still associated with mental illness and addictions that make regulators not want to get involved.

Two states, New York and California, are leading the way in enforcing parity rules, Patrick Kennedy, a former Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, told Ollove, saying that they were the "only states that consistently enforce mental health parity."

Sloan took issue with that, saying, "We believe Kentucky consistently enforces the rules related to mental health and substance abuse parity." 

Kentuckians who believe they have been improperly denied mental-health and substance-abuse care should contact the Department of Insurance.

Friday, May 15, 2015

3,047 got private health insurance in special March-April signup designed to avoid or reduce tax penalty for not being covered

More than 3,000 Kentuckians signed up for health coverage during a special March-April enrollment period that allowed them to avoid or reduce tax penalties for being uninsured.

"At the Feb. 15 close of the 2015 open enrollment period, 158,685 individuals had enrolled in health care coverage through Kynect for 2015," a state press release said. "That number included 102,830 Kentuckians who have either newly enrolled in a qualified health plan since Nov. 15, 2014, or renewed the private insurance plan they purchased through Kynect last year."

With the additional 3,047 enrollments, the final enrollment in private health insurance was 105,877. The federal tax penalty for being uninsured in 2014 was $95 for each adult household member or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. In 2015, it will be $325 for each adult or two percent of income, whichever is greater. Penalties for not insuring children are half those for adults.

“Given that the personal risks of not having health coverage are even greater than the penalties, we decided to continue a special enrollment period to allow those individuals more time to sign up,” Gov. Steve Beshear said in the release.

Those who took advantage of the special enrollment period will still owe a penalty for any months they were uninsured and did not qualify for an exemption in 2014 and 2015. "This special enrollment period was designed to allow such individuals the opportunity to get covered for the remainder of the year and avoid additional fees for 2015," the release said.