Roughly 68,000 seniors and disabled residents will lose access to a Medicare financial assistance program January 1, when income eligibility requirements change under the newly enacted state budget. Currently, through the Medicare Savings Program, the state Department of Social Services (DSS) pays Medicare Part B premiums for low-income elderly and disabled adults earning less than 246 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $29,667. Part B covers things like doctor visits, lab tests and outpatient care. Those earning less than 234 percent of the poverty level, or about $28,220, can receive additional help covering co-pays, deductibles and prescriptions. In the new year, only those earning less than 100 percent of the poverty level—or $12,060—will qualify to receive all benefits under the program, and those receiving subsidies for premiums alone must earn less than 135 percent of the poverty level to be considered for eligibility.
Consumers can begin shopping for 2018 health insurance through Access Health CT (AHCT) Wednesday, but will see sizeable price increases and have far less time to enroll than in previous years. Officials at the state’s health insurance exchange are boosting marketing and outreach efforts at a time when many consumers may be confused, said Andrea Ravitz, AHCT’s director of marketing and sales. Despite efforts by President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which created AHCT, the legislation and the marketplace still stand. “The constant mixed messages are confusing people,” Ravitz said. “There are certain things that are affecting the federal platform that are not affecting Connecticut at all.
A few years ago, patient navigators at Project Access-New Haven set out to see if they could change the course of health care treatment for some Medicaid patients who frequently used emergency rooms.
They contacted emergency departments at Yale New Haven Hospital and its Saint Raphael campus and enrolled 100 patients in their study in 2013. Those selected had visited emergency rooms four to 18 times in the past year for chest pain, abdominal pain or chronic migraines, among other ailments. The navigators at Project Access coordinated health care for the patients. They scheduled appointments with primary care physicians, provided reminders, accompanied patients to physician visits and followed up to ensure compliance with the prescribed treatment. The preliminary results were eye-opening: “We saw an average cost reduction of $153 per member per month,” said Dr. Roberta Capp, assistant professor, Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado Denver, and lead investigator of the study.
The number of people diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease has increased in Connecticut as well as across the country, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Though experts note that some of the increase is due to better screening, they are concerned about an actual rise in cases and attribute that to more casual sex through hookup apps and an increase in unprotected sex. Nationwide, more than 2 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported in 2016, the highest number ever, with chlamydia making up the majority of cases. The annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report, released in late September, found that a total of 1,598,354 cases of chlamydia were reported in 2016, a 4.7 percent increase over 2015. Gonorrhea cases increased by 18.5 percent to 468,514, and syphilis increased 17.6 percent to 27,814 cases. In Connecticut, 14,028 cases of chlamydia were reported, 759 more than in 2015, a 5.7 percent rise.
Connecticut’s rural residents die at higher rates than their city and suburban counterparts and a large percentage of those deaths may be preventable if better public health programs or better access to health care services were available, according to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Doctor shortages and long commutes make it harder for rural residents to get health care. And some officials worry that changes in hospital ownership and the Affordable Care Act could amplify existing problems.
“We have excellent medical care as a general rule in the state,” state Rep. Susan Johnson, D-Windham, said. But rural and other high poverty areas, where many residents are on Medicaid rather than private health insurance, remain vulnerable to hospital service reductions and changes in eligibility for health care coverage, she said. “My battle is to make sure the basic hospital services, like critical care units, are maintained in the small rural hospitals,” Johnson said.
Combining medication with other forms of therapy can help people with opioid addition avoid relapse by calming cravings and managing the symptoms of withdrawal. Less than half of the privately drug addiction programs nationally offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT); and even in those programs, only one-third of patients receive MAT, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. In Connecticut, there are about 40 Medicaid providers that prescribe medication for treatment. In our podcast, sponsored by Wheeler Clinic, Dr. Robert Grillo discusses medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. Increasing access to MAT is important given the extreme danger associated with relapse, says Dr. Robert Grillo, medical director for psychiatry at Wheeler Clinic.
The number of low-income Connecticut children receiving dental sealants, a treatment to prevent tooth decay, has grown in recent years and the state’s participation rate outpaces the nation. In 2016, 44,497 (19.6 percent) of the 226,111 children ages 5 to 16 enrolled in the Connecticut Dental Health Partnership had sealants placed on molars, up 9 percent from 2011, according to the state Department of Social Services. Nationally, in the 2015 fiscal year, 14.9 percent of eligible children – 2.7 million out of more than 17 million – received sealants, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. State officials and dental providers make a concerted effort to educate families about the importance of sealants, said Donna Balaski, director of dental services at DSS. “Sealants are shown to be an effective treatment for preventing disease,” she said, and is part of a broader DSS strategy to teach families about overall dental health.
As the opioid epidemic deepens, Yale researchers say starting treatment with medication is the most cost-effective way to treat patients in hospital emergency departments. People with opioid addiction often seek treatment in EDs for overdoses and other ailments. Those who receive buprenorphine, a medication that reduces drug cravings, in the ED incur lower health care costs over the following month than those who get a referral to treatment services or receive a brief intervention with a facilitated referral, according to a new analysis of a randomized clinical trial. The analysis, published today in the journal “Addiction,” compared the estimated health care costs for patients over the 30 days following their ED visit. Those costs included ED care, addiction treatment, inpatient and outpatient costs and medications.
When the lights power on in the operating room at Bridgeport Hospital, more than a half of the acute care team of surgeons peering from behind the masks are women. That’s unusual, given that only 28 percent of all surgeons in Connecticut are female, according to the latest figures from the American Medical Association (AMA). Flexible work schedules and hiring more surgeons to ease the on-call burden has helped to lure more women to the trauma surgical team, said Bridgeport Hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Michael Ivy, a trauma surgeon. Hospitals statewide have launched initiatives to help boost the ranks of women surgeons. There’s been progress, but gaps persist.
On the surface, it looks as if Connecticut children fare pretty well. According to the annual Kids Count report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the state ranks fourth in education, third in health, and sixth in overall well-being for children. The foundation pointed to nearly universal health insurance—97 percent—for Connecticut’s children as a major contributor to the state’s high ranking. Of all the states, Connecticut also had the lowest rate of deaths among children ages 1 to 19: 15 deaths per 100,000 children. But that’s not the entire story, not by half.