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Medical Providers Still Grappling With UnitedHealth Cyberattack: ‘More Devastating Than Covid’

Two months after a cyberattack on a UnitedHealth Group subsidiary halted payments to some doctors, medical providers say they’re still grappling with the fallout, even though UnitedHealth told shareholders on Tuesday that business is largely back to normal.

“We are still desperately struggling,” said Emily Benson, a therapist in Edina, Minnesota, who runs her own practice, Beginnings & Beyond. “This was way more devastating than covid ever was.”

Change Healthcare, a business unit of the Minnesota-based insurance giant UnitedHealth Group, controls a digital network so vast it processes nearly 1 in 3 U.S. patient records each year. The network is a critical conduit for shuttling information between most of the nation’s insurance companies and medical providers, who submit claims through it to get paid for treating patients.

For Benson, the cyberattack continues to significantly disrupt her business and her ability to pay her seven other clinicians.

Before the hack brought down the system, an insurance company would process a provider’s claim, then send a type of receipt known as an “electronic remittance,” which details the amount the provider was paid and whether the claim was denied. Without it, providers don’t know if they were paid correctly or how much to bill patients. 

Now, instead of automatically handling those receipts digitally, some insurers must send forms in the mail. The forms require manual entry, which Benson said is a time-consuming process because it requires her to match up service dates and details to divvy up pay among her clinicians. And from at least one insurer, she said, she has yet to receive any remittances.  

“I’m holding on to my sanity by a thread,” Benson said.

The situation is so dire, Alex Shteynshlyuger, a urologist who owns a practice in New York City, said he had to transfer money from his personal accounts to pay his office bills.  

“Look, I am freaking out,” Shteynshlyuger said. “Everyone is freaking out. We are like monkeys in a cage. We can’t really do anything about it.”

Roughly 30% of his claims were routed through Change’s platform. Except for Medicare and certain Blue Cross plans, he said, he has been unable to submit claims or receive payment from any insurers.

The company is encouraging struggling providers to reach out to the company directly via its website, said Tyler Mason, vice president of communications for UnitedHealth Group.

“I don’t think we’ve had a single provider that hasn’t been helped that’s contacted us.” As part of that help, Mason said, UnitedHealth has sent providers $7 billion so far.

Ever since the February cyberattack forced UnitedHealth to disconnect its Change platform, the company has been working “day and night to restore services” and has made “substantial progress,” UnitedHealth CEO Andrew Witty told shareholders April 16. 

“We see a fairly normal claims receipts and payments flow going on at this point,” Chief Financial Officer John Rex said during the shareholder call. “But we’ll really want to be careful on that because we know there are certain care providers out there that may have been left out of it.”

Rex said the company expects full operations to resume next year.

The company reported that the hacking has already cost it $870 million and that leaders expect the final tally to total at least $1 billion this year. To put that in perspective, the company reported $99.8 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2024, an 8.6% increase over that period last year.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held a hearing April 16 seeking answers on the severity and damage the cyberattack caused to the nation’s health system.

Subcommittee chair Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) said a provider in his hometown is still grappling with the fallout from the attack and losing staff because they can’t make payroll. Providers “still haven’t been made whole,” Guthrie said.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) voiced concern that a “single point of failure” reverberated around the country, disrupting patients’ access and providers’ financial stability.

Lawmakers expressed frustration that UnitedHealth failed to send a representative to the Capitol to answer their questions. The committee had sent Witty a list of detailed questions ahead of the hearing but was still awaiting answers.

As providers wait, too, they are trying to cover the gaps. To pay her practice’s bills, Benson said, she had to take out a nearly $40,000 loan — from a division of UnitedHealth.

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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He Thinks His Wife Died in an Understaffed Hospital. Now He’s Trying to Change the Industry.

For the past year, police Detective Tim Lillard has spent most of his waking hours unofficially investigating his wife’s death.

The question has never been exactly how Ann Picha-Lillard died on Nov. 19, 2022: She succumbed to respiratory failure after an infection put too much strain on her weakened lungs. She was 65.

For Tim Lillard, the question has been why.

Lillard had been in the hospital with his wife every day for a month. Nurses in the intensive care unit had told him they were short-staffed, and were constantly rushing from one patient to the next.

Lillard tried to pitch in where he could: brushing Ann’s shoulder-length blonde hair or flagging down help when her tracheostomy tube gurgled — a sign of possible respiratory distress.

So the day he walked into the ICU and saw staff members huddled in Ann’s room, he knew it was serious. He called the couple’s adult children: “It’s Mom,” he told them. “Come now.”

All he could do then was sit on Ann’s bed and hold her hand, watching as staff members performed chest compressions, desperately trying to save her life.

A minute ticked by. Then another. Lillard’s not sure how long the CPR continued — long enough for the couple’s son to arrive and take a seat on the other side of Ann’s bed, holding her other hand.

Finally, the intensive care doctor called it and the team stopped CPR. Time of death: 12:37 p.m.

Lillard didn’t know what to do in a world without Ann. They had been married almost 25 years. “We were best friends,” he said.

Just days before her death, nurses had told Lillard that Ann could be discharged to a rehabilitation center as soon as the end of the week. Then, suddenly, she was gone. Lillard didn’t understand what had happened.

Lillard said he now believes that overwhelmed, understaffed nurses hadn’t been able to respond in time as Ann’s condition deteriorated. And he has made it his mission to fight for change, joining some nursing unions in a push for mandatory ratios that would limit the number of patients in a nurse’s care. “I without a doubt believe 100% Ann would still be here today if they had staffing levels, mandatory staffing levels, especially in ICU,” Lillard said.

Last year, Oregon became the second state after California to pass hospital-wide nurse ratios that limit the number of patients in a nurse’s care. Michigan, Maine, and Pennsylvania are now weighing similar legislation.

But supporters of mandatory ratios are going up against a powerful hospital industry spending millions of dollars to kill those efforts. And hospitals and health systems say any staffing ratio regulations, however well-intentioned, would only put patients in greater danger.

Putting Patients at Risk

By next year, the United States could have as many as 450,000 fewer nurses than it needs, according to one estimate. The hospital industry blames covid-19 burnout, an aging workforce, a large patient population, and an insufficient pipeline of new nurses entering the field.

But nursing unions say that’s not the full story. There are now 4.7 million registered nurses in the country, more than ever before, with an estimated 130,000 nurses having entered the field from 2020 to 2022.

The problem, the unions say, is a hospital industry that’s been intentionally understaffing their units for years in order to cut costs and bolster profits. The unions say there isn’t a shortage of nurses but a shortage of nurses willing to work in those conditions.

The nurse staffing crisis is now affecting patient care. The number of Michigan nurses who say they know of a patient who has died because of understaffing has nearly doubled in recent years, according to a Michigan Nurses Association survey last year.

Just months before Ann Picha-Lillard’s death, nurses and doctors at the health system where she died had asked the Michigan attorney general to investigate staffing cuts they believed were leading to dangerous conditions, including patient deaths, according to The Detroit News.

But Lillard didn’t know any of that when he drove his wife to the hospital in October 2022. She had been feeling short of breath for a few weeks after she and Lillard had mild covid infections. They were both vaccinated, but Ann was immunocompromised. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that had also caused scarring in her lungs.

To be safe, doctors at DMC Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital wanted to keep Ann for observation. After a few days in the facility, she developed pneumonia. Doctors told the couple that Ann needed to be intubated. Ann was terrified but Lillard begged her to listen to the doctors. Tearfully, she agreed.

With Ann on a ventilator in the ICU, it seemed clear to Lillard that nurses were understaffed and overwhelmed. One nurse told him they had been especially short-staffed lately, Lillard said.

“The alarms would go off for the medications, they’d come into the room, shut off the alarm when they get low, run to the medication room, come back, set them down, go to the next room, shut off alarms,” Lillard recalled. “And that was going on all the time.”

Lillard felt bad for the nurses, he said. “But obviously, also for my wife. That’s why I tried doing as much as I could when I was there. I would comb her hair, clean her, just keep an eye on things. But I had no idea what was really going on.”

Finally, Ann’s health seemed to be stabilizing. A nurse told Lillard they’d be able to discharge Ann, possibly by the end of that week.

By Nov. 17, Ann was no longer sedated and she cried when she saw Lillard and her daughter. Still unable to speak, she tried to mouth words to her husband “but we couldn’t understand what she was saying,” Lillard said.

The next day, Lillard went home feeling hopeful, counting down the days until Ann could leave the hospital.

Less than 24 hours later, Ann died.

Lillard couldn’t wrap his head around how things went downhill so fast. Ann’s underlying lung condition, the infection, and her weakened state could have proved fatal in the best of circumstances. But Lillard wanted to understand how Ann had gone from nearly discharged to dying, seemingly overnight.

He turned his dining room table into a makeshift office and started with what he knew. The day Ann died, he remembered her medical team telling him that her heart rate had spiked and she had developed another infection the night before. Lillard said he interviewed two DMC Huron Valley-Sinai nurse administrators, and had his own doctor look through Ann’s charts and test results from the hospital. “Everybody kept telling me: sepsis, sepsis, sepsis,” he said.

Sepsis is when an infection triggers an extreme reaction in the body that can cause rapid organ failure. It’s one of the leading causes of death in U.S. hospitals. Some experts say up to 80% of sepsis deaths are preventable, while others say the percentage is far lower.

Lives can be saved when sepsis is caught and treated fast, which requires careful attention to small changes in vital signs. One study found that for every additional patient a nurse had to care for, the mortality rate from sepsis increased by 12%.

Lillard became convinced that had there been more nurses working in the ICU, someone could have caught what was happening to Ann.

“They just didn’t have the time,” he said.

DMC Huron Valley-Sinai’s director of communications and media relations, Brian Taylor, declined a request for comment about the 2022 staffing complaint to the Michigan attorney general.

Following the Money

When Lillard asked the hospital for copies of Ann’s medical records, DMC Huron Valley-Sinai told him he’d have to request them from its parent company in Texas.

Like so many hospitals in recent years, the Lillards’ local health system had been absorbed by a series of other corporations. In 2011, the Detroit Medical Center health system was bought for $1.5 billion by Vanguard Health Systems, which was backed by the private equity company Blackstone Group.

Two years after that, in 2013, Vanguard itself was acquired by Tenet Healthcare, a for-profit company based in Dallas that, according to its website, operates 480 ambulatory surgery centers and surgical hospitals, 52 hospitals, and approximately 160 additional outpatient centers.

As health care executives face increasing pressure from investors, nursing unions say hospitals have been intentionally understaffing nurses to reduce labor costs and increase revenue. Also, insurance reimbursements incentivize keeping nurse staffing levels low. “Hospitals are not directly reimbursed for nursing services in the same way that a physician bills for their services,” said Karen Lasater, an associate professor of nursing in the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania. “And because hospitals don’t perceive nursing as a service line, but rather a cost center, they think about nursing as: How can we reduce this to the lowest denominator possible?” she said.

Lasater is a proponent of mandatory nurse ratios. “The nursing shortage is not a pipeline problem, but a leaky bucket problem,” she said. “And the solutions to this crisis need to address the root cause of the issue, which is why nurses are saying they’re leaving employment. And it’s rooted in unsafe staffing. It’s not safe for the patients, but it’s also not safe for nurses.”

A Battle Between Hospitals and Unions

In November, almost one year after Ann’s death, Lillard told a room of lawmakers at the Michigan State Capitol that he believes the Safe Patient Care Act could save lives. The health policy committee in the Michigan House was holding a hearing on the proposed act, which would limit the amount of mandatory overtime a nurse can be forced to work, and require hospitals to make their staffing levels available to the public.

Most significantly, the bills would require hospitals to have mandatory, minimum nurse-to-patient ratios. For example: one nurse for every patient in the ICU; one for every three patients in the emergency room; a nurse for triage; and one nurse for every four postpartum birthing patients and well-baby care.

Efforts to pass mandatory ratio laws failed in Washington and Minnesota last year after facing opposition from the hospital industry. In Minnesota, the Minnesota Nurses Association accused the Mayo Clinic of using “blackmail tactics”: Mayo had told lawmakers it would pull billions of dollars in investment from the state if mandatory ratio legislation passed. Soon afterward, lawmakers removed nurse ratios from the legislation.

While Lillard waited for his turn to speak to Michigan lawmakers about the Safe Patient Care Act in November, members of the Michigan Nurses Association, which says it represents some 13,000 nurses, told lawmakers that its units were dangerously understaffed. They said critical care nurses were sometimes caring for up to 11 patients at a time.

“Last year I coded someone in an ICU for 10 minutes, all alone, because there was no one to help me,” said the nurses association president and registered nurse Jamie Brown, reading from another nurse’s letter.

“I have been left as the only specially trained nurse to take care of eight babies on the unit: eight fragile newborns,” said Carolyn Clemens, a registered nurse from the Grand Blanc area of Michigan.

Nikia Parker said she has left full-time emergency room nursing, a job she believes is her calling. After her friend died in the hospital where she worked, she was left wondering whether understaffing may have contributed to his death.

“If the Safe Patient Care Act passed, and we have ratios, I’m one of those nurses who would return to the bedside full time,” Parker told lawmakers. “And so many of my co-workers who have left would join me.”

But not all nurses agree that mandatory ratios are a good idea. 

While the American Nurses Association supports enforceable ratios as an “essential approach,” that organization’s Michigan chapter does not, saying there may not be enough nurses in the state to satisfy the requirements of the Safe Patient Care Act.

For some lawmakers, the risk of collateral damage seems too high. State Rep. Graham Filler said he worries that mandating ratios could backfire.

“We’re going to severely hamper health care in the state of Michigan. I’m talking closed wards because you can’t meet the ratio in a bill. The inability for a hospital to treat an emergent patient. So it feels kind of to me like a gamble we’re taking,” said Filler, a Republican.

Michigan hospitals are already struggling to fill some 8,400 open positions, according to the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. That association says that complying with the Safe Patient Care Act would require hiring 13,000 nurses.

Every major health system in the state signed a letter opposing mandatory ratios, saying it would force them to close as many as 5,100 beds.

Lillard watched the debate play out in the hearing. “That’s a scare tactic, in my opinion, where the hospitals say we’re going to have to start closing stuff down,” he said.

He doesn’t think legislation on mandatory ratios — which are still awaiting a vote in the Michigan House’s health policy committee — are a “magic bullet” for such a complex, national problem. But he believes they could help.

“The only way these hospitals and the administrations are gonna make any changes, and even start moving towards making it better, is if they’re forced to,” Lillard said.

Seated in the center of the hearing room in Lansing, next to a framed photo of Ann, Lillard’s hands shook as he recounted those final minutes in the ICU.

“Please take action so that no other person or other family endures this loss,” he said. “You can make a difference in saving lives.”

Grief is one thing, Lillard said, but it’s another thing to be haunted by doubts, to worry that your loved one’s care was compromised before they ever walked through the hospital doors. What he wants most, he said, is to prevent any other family from having to wonder, “What if?”

This article is from a partnership that includes Michigan Public, NPR, and KFF Health News.

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


This story can be republished for free (details).

In San Francisco’s Chinatown, a CEO Works With the Community To Bolster Hospital

SAN FRANCISCO — Chinese Hospital, located in the heart of this city’s legendary Chinatown, struggles with many of the same financial and demographic challenges that plague small independent hospitals in underserved areas across the country.

Many of its patients are aging Chinese speakers with limited incomes who are reliant on Medicare and Medi-Cal, which pay less than commercial insurance and often don’t fully cover provider costs. And due to an arcane federal rule, Chinese Hospital receives a lower rate of reimbursement than many other hospitals that treat a large number of low-income patients. Add the high cost of labor and supplies in this post-pandemic world, and it’s not hard to see why the hospital lost $20 million over the past two years and tapped a nearly $10.4 million loan from the state’s distressed hospital loan fund.

Yet the 88-bed hospital has strong ties to the University of California-San Francisco and the city’s public health department. And it gets support from businesses, charities, and the surrounding community. For Jian Zhang, 58, the hospital’s CEO since 2017, fundraising is like breathing.

“I feel like it’s a full-time job for me,” said Zhang, who arrived in San Francisco from Guangzhou, China, as an international student in 1990, earned a nursing doctorate from the University of San Francisco, and has remained in the Bay Area.

Revenue from fundraising and other services have provided a big boost, helping the hospital significantly offset what it lost on patient care in 2022, according to the hospital and state data. By contrast, Madera Community Hospital and Beverly Hospital were far less able to do so. Those hospitals, which also serve low-income populations with many patients on government health care programs, filed for bankruptcy last year.

Chinese Hospital has its roots in a medicinal dispensary, founded in 1899 to provide health care for Chinese immigrants who were effectively excluded from mainstream medical facilities. The hospital itself opened in 1925, and a second building was added next door in 1979. In 2016, a new building replaced the original hospital.

Today, Chinese Hospital includes those two buildings plus five outpatient clinics offering Eastern and Western medicine, spread out across San Francisco and neighboring San Mateo County. Through partnerships, Chinese Hospital has been able to offer specialty services to its patients, including eye surgery, palliative care, and a stroke center. And $10 million in grants it received from the state last year will help build a subacute unit, which is for fragile patients who still need nursing and monitoring following a hospital stay.

In an interview with KFF Health News senior correspondent Bernard J. Wolfson, Zhang discussed the challenges facing small independent hospitals, including Chinese Hospital, and offered her vision for its future. The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity:

Q: What are some of the main challenges your hospital faces?

We are facing all the challenges other hospitals are facing, especially the covid pandemic and its associated negative impact — the physician shortage and workforce shortage, the labor cost increases. But as a small community hospital, we don’t have a lot of reserve money. It’s hard to make ends meet.

That is a huge challenge because of the low reimbursement rate. We serve more than 80% Medicare and Medi-Cal patients.

Q: What are some specific challenges of serving a largely Chinese population?

In this market, with the workforce shortage, and especially after the pandemic, it’s even harder to recruit bilingual physicians, and other bilingual staff.

And culturally, Chinese patients, when they are sick, need to drink soup for healing or eat certain other foods for healing. You can’t be providing sandwiches and salads. They won’t eat that. So our kitchen has to provide Chinese food, has to boil soup, and then we have to cook different food for our patients who are non-Chinese.

Q: Are you concerned about the state’s budget shortfall?

Absolutely. We all were expecting that Medi-Cal would increase rates. We have been pushing that for many years. But if it’s not going to happen, a lot of our programs we probably won’t be able to do. I am very concerned about it.

Q: Chinese Hospital has its own health plan, and you said 40% to 50% of your patients are members of it. How has that helped?

It’s like Kaiser Permanente. You have your own members, and you manage them. You want your patients to be in outpatient. So you take care of them, keep them healthy, so they don’t need to come to the hospital for acute care. That’s how you save money.

Q: And I imagine that getting fixed monthly payments — capitation payments — for a large proportion of your patients also helps?

Definitely, capitation payments help. Especially during the pandemic. Think about it. If you didn’t have capitation payments, when procedures were canceled, you didn’t have income.

Q: What else has helped you weather the storm?

We have partnerships with San Francisco’s Department of Public Health and UCSF. During the pandemic, we took overflow patients from the city, so we didn’t have to lay off a lot of people. We signed a contract with the city to open up the second floor of our hospital to take overflow patients from Zuckerberg San Francisco General hospital.

Q: You also have strong fundraising activity.

We do have strong community support. The hospital is not just a hospital to me. It’s really part of our history. In the past, it was the only place [Chinese people] could go. Wherever I went, to a conference, for example, somebody would raise their hand and say, “Oh, I was born at Chinese Hospital” or “My grandfather was born at Chinese Hospital.” It is really, really deeply rooted in the community.

Q: What’s your vision for the future of the hospital?

Chinese Hospital is very important to the community, and I want to see it survive and thrive. But it definitely needs support from the government and from the community. Moving forward, we will continue to build on collaborations and partnerships.

This article was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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Newsom Offers a Compromise to Protect Indoor Workers from Heat

Kaiser Health News:States - April 18, 2024

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has compromised on long-sought rules that would protect indoor workers from extreme heat, saying tens of thousands of prison and jail employees — and prisoners — would have to wait for relief.

The deal comes a month after the administration unexpectedly rejected sweeping heat standards for workers in sweltering warehouses, steamy kitchens, and other dangerously hot job sites. The rules had been years in the making, and a state worker safety board voted to adopt them March 21. But in a controversial move, the administration upended the process by saying the cost to cool state prisons was unclear — and likely very expensive.

So the Democratic administration said the rules can proceed but must exempt tens of thousands of workers at 33 state prisons, conservation camps, and local jails, “in recognition of the unique implementation challenges,” said Eric Berg, of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, at a Thursday hearing. A separate regulation will be drafted for correctional facilities, which could take a year, if not longer.

It’s unclear if the standards will become law in time to protect millions of other workers from summer’s intensifying heat. The compromise rules must go through a 15-day public comment period, and legal reviews within 100 days, which could push implementation well into summer. But that can’t even happen until the original regulation is rejected by the Office of Administrative Law, which has until next month.

“Summer is arriving, and many workers, unfortunately, are going to suffer heat conditions,” said Tim Shadix, legal director at the Warehouse Worker Resource Center. “Some will likely get really sick, potentially even die from heat illness, while we continue to wait for the standard.”

Berg told members of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board on April 18 that Cal/OSHA would try to accelerate the timeline and get protections in place for summer.

California has had heat standards on the books for outdoor workers since 2005, and rules for indoor workplaces have been in the works since 2016. The proposed standards would require work sites to be cooled below 87 degrees Fahrenheit when employees are present and below 82 degrees in places where workers wear protective clothing or are exposed to radiant heat, such as furnaces. Buildings could be cooled with air conditioning, fans, misters, and other methods.

The rules allow workarounds for businesses that can’t cool their workplaces sufficiently, such as laundries or restaurant kitchens.

Because the rules would have a sweeping economic impact, state law requires Newsom’s Department of Finance to sign off on the financial projections, which it refused to do last month when it was unclear how much the regulations would cost state prisons. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said implementing the standards in its prisons and other facilities could cost billions, but the board’s economic analysis pegged the cost at less than $1 million a year.

Department of Finance spokesperson H.D. Palmer couldn’t promise that the compromise rules would be signed off on, but “given that the earlier correctional estimates were the issue before, not having them in the revised package would appear to address that issue,” he said.

Business and agricultural groups complained repeatedly during the rulemaking process that complying with the rules would burden businesses financially. At the April 18 hearing, they highlighted the administration’s lack of transparency and questioned why one sector should be given an exemption over another.

“The massive state costs that are of concern, specifically around prisons in the billions of dollars, are also costs that California employers will bear,” said Robert Moutrie, a senior policy advocate at the California Chamber of Commerce.

Labor advocates asked board members not to exempt prisons, saying corrections workers need protection from heat, too.

“It’s a huge concern that prison workplaces all over are being excluded from the heat standard, leaving out not just guards, but also nurses, janitors, and the other prison workers across California unprotected from heat,” said AnaStacia Nicol Wright, an attorney with Worksafe, a workplace safety advocacy nonprofit. “California needs to prioritize the safety and well-being of their workers, regardless of whether they work in corrections, a farm, or a sugar refinery.”

Prisons will continue to provide cooling stations in air-conditioned areas, and make water stations, fans, portable cooling units, and ice more available to workers, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Prison housing units, which house roughly 93,000 inmates as of April 17, all can be cooled, usually with evaporative coolers and fans. The department has 58,135 staff members, spokesperson Terri Hardy said.

Only Minnesota and Oregon have adopted heat rules for indoor workers. Legislation has stalled in Congress, and even though the Biden administration has initiated the long process of establishing national heat standards for outdoor and indoor work, they may take years to finalize.

Seven workers died in California from indoor heat between 2010 and 2017. Heat stress can lead to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, cardiac arrest, and kidney failure. In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, 1,600 heat-related deaths occurred nationally, which is likely an undercount because health care providers are not required to report them. It’s not clear how many of these deaths are related to work, either indoors or outdoors.

“These are not overly cumbersome things to implement, and they are easy ways to keep people safe and healthy,” said Jessica Early, patient advocacy coordinator at the National Union of Healthcare Workers. “Now is the urgent time to make our workplaces safer and more resilient in the face of rising temperatures.”

This article was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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Too Big To Fail? Now It’s ‘Too Big To Hack’

The Host Mary Agnes Carey KFF Health News @maryagnescarey Read Mary Agnes' stories.

Lawmakers in Washington this week held the first congressional hearing on the Change Healthcare cyberattack, a breach that sent shock waves through the health care system as payments for care ground to a halt and left some providers in financial trouble. Republicans and Democrats alike zeroed in on how big health care conglomerations — like Change’s parent company, UnitedHealth Group — are leaving patients vulnerable.

And nearly 1 in 4 adults who lost Medicaid coverage in the past year are now uninsured, according to a new KFF survey probing the effects of what’s known as the “unwinding” of enrollments in the government insurance program for low-income people since pandemic-era protections expired.

This week’s panelists are Mary Agnes Carey of KFF Health News, Jessie Hellmann of CQ Roll Call, Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet, and Lauren Weber of The Washington Post.

Panelists Jessie Hellmann CQ Roll Call @jessiehellmann Read Jessie's stories. Sarah Karlin-Smith Pink Sheet @SarahKarlin Read Sarah's stories. Lauren Weber The Washington Post @LaurenWeberHP Read Lauren's stories.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Though the Change Healthcare hearing on Capitol Hill illuminated bipartisan agreement on the perils of vertical integration in health care, lawmakers did not agree on possible solutions. Addressing consolidation, however, could remedy issues in health care beyond cybersecurity.
  • The KFF survey on the unwinding found that nearly half of those who lost coverage signed back up for Medicaid weeks or months later, a signal that those enrollees should never have been dropped in the first place. Even a temporary loss in health coverage can have serious, lingering consequences.
  • Republicans in Arizona are grappling with the fallout from the state’s newly reinstated, Civil War-era abortion law — echoing recent problems for Alabama Republicans after a state Supreme Court ruling upended access to in vitro fertilization there. Softened stances from conservative hard-liners like Senate candidate Kari Lake point to the potential negative consequences for the party in a critical election year.
  • And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new information about the current measles outbreak, revealing that many of those sickened are children, as well as adults who are unvaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown.

Also this week, Julie Rovner, KFF Health News’ chief Washington correspondent, interviews Caroline Pearson of the Peterson Health Technology Institute.

Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week that they think you should read, too:

Mary Agnes Carey: KFF Health News’ “When Rogue Brokers Switch People’s ACA Policies, Tax Surprises Can Follow,” by Julie Appleby. 

Jessie Hellmann: Tampa Bay Times’ “Vulnerable Florida Patients Scramble After Abrupt Medicaid Termination,” by Teghan Simonton. 

Sarah Karlin-Smith: Stat’s “Grocers Are Pushing Legislation They Claim Would Enhance Food Safety. Advocates Say It Would Gut FDA Rules,” by Nicholas Florko. 

Lauren Weber: The New York Times’ “Chinese Company Under Congressional Scrutiny Makes Key U.S. Drugs,” by Christina Jewett. 

Also mentioned on this week’s podcast:

Credits Francis Ying Audio producer Emmarie Huetteman Editor

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to KFF Health News’ “What the Health?” on SpotifyApple PodcastsPocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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HHS Leadership Marks One-Year Anniversary of President Biden’s Care Executive Order

HHS Gov News - April 18, 2024
Marking the one-year anniversary of President Biden’s Executive Order on Increasing Access to High-Quality Care and Supporting Caregivers

The Path to a Better Tuberculosis Vaccine Runs Through Montana

Kaiser Health News:States - April 18, 2024

A team of Montana researchers is playing a key role in the development of a more effective vaccine against tuberculosis, an infectious disease that has killed more people than any other.

The BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) vaccine, created in 1921, remains the sole TB vaccine. While it is 40% to 80% effective in young children, its efficacy is very low in adolescents and adults, leading to a worldwide push to create a more powerful vaccine.

One effort is underway at the University of Montana Center for Translational Medicine. The center specializes in improving and creating vaccines by adding what are called novel adjuvants. An adjuvant is a substance included in the vaccine, such as fat molecules or aluminum salts, that enhances the immune response, and novel adjuvants are those that have not yet been used in humans. Scientists are finding that adjuvants make for stronger, more precise, and more durable immunity than antigens, which create antibodies, would alone.

Eliciting specific responses from the immune system and deepening and broadening the response with adjuvants is known as precision vaccination. “It’s not one-size-fits-all,” said Ofer Levy, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard University and the head of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “A vaccine might work differently in a newborn versus an older adult and a middle-aged person.”

The ultimate precision vaccine, said Levy, would be lifelong protection from a disease with one jab. “A single-shot protection against influenza or a single-shot protection against covid, that would be the holy grail,” Levy said.

Jay Evans, the director of the University of Montana center and the chief scientific and strategy officer and a co-founder of Inimmune, a privately held biotechnology company in Missoula, said his team has been working on a TB vaccine for 15 years. The private-public partnership is developing vaccines and trying to improve existing vaccines, and he said it’s still five years off before the TB vaccine might be distributed widely.

It has not gone unnoticed at the center that this state-of-the-art vaccine research and production is located in a state that passed one of the nation’s most extreme anti-vaccination laws during the pandemic in 2021. The law prohibits businesses and governments from discriminating against people who aren’t vaccinated against covid-19 or other diseases, effectively banning both public and private employers from requiring workers to get vaccinated against covid or any other disease. A federal judge later ruled that the law cannot be enforced in health care settings, such as hospitals and doctors’ offices.

In mid-March, the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute announced it had begun the third and final phase of clinical trials for the new vaccine in seven countries. The trials should take about five years to complete. Research and production are being done in several places, including at a manufacturing facility in Hamilton owned by GSK, a giant pharmaceutical company.

Known as the forgotten pandemic, TB kills up to 1.6 million people a year, mostly in impoverished areas in Asia and Africa, despite its being both preventable and treatable. The U.S. has seen an increase in tuberculosis over the past decade, especially with the influx of migrants, and the number of cases rose by 16% from 2022 to 2023. Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV, whose risk of contracting a TB infection is 20 times as great as people without HIV.

“TB is a complex pathogen that has been with human beings for ages,” said Alemnew Dagnew, who heads the program for the new vaccine for the Gates Medical Research Institute. “Because it has been with human beings for many years, it has evolved and has a mechanism to escape the immune system. And the immunology of TB is not fully understood.”

The University of Montana Center for Translational Medicine and Inimmune together have 80 employees who specialize in researching a range of adjuvants to understand the specifics of immune responses to different substances. “You have to tailor it like tools in a toolbox towards the pathogen you are vaccinating against,” Evans said. “We have a whole library of adjuvant molecules and formulations.”

Vaccines are made more precise largely by using adjuvants. There are three basic types of natural adjuvants: aluminum salts; squalene, which is made from shark liver; and some kinds of saponins, which are fat molecules. It’s not fully understood how they stimulate the immune system. The center in Missoula has also created and patented a synthetic adjuvant, UM-1098, that drives a specific type of immune response and will be added to new vaccines.

One of the most promising molecules being used to juice up the immune system response to vaccines is a saponin molecule from the bark of the quillay tree, gathered in Chile from trees at least 10 years old. Such molecules were used by Novavax in its covid vaccine and by GSK in its widely used shingles vaccine, Shingrix. These molecules are also a key component in the new tuberculosis vaccine, known as the M72 vaccine.

But there is room for improvement.

“The vaccine shows 50% efficacy, which doesn’t sound like much, but basically there is no effective vaccine currently, so 50% is better than what’s out there,” Evans said. “We’re looking to take what we learned from that vaccine development with additional adjuvants to try and make it even better and move 50% to 80% or more.”

By contrast, measles vaccines are 95% effective.

According to Medscape, around 15 vaccine candidates are being developed to replace the BCG vaccine, and three of them are in phase 3 clinical trials.

One approach Evans’ center is researching to improve the new vaccine’s efficacy is taking a piece of the bacterium that causes TB, synthesizing it, and combining it with the adjuvant QS-21, made from the quillay tree. “It stimulates the immune system in a way that is specific to TB and it drives an immune response that is even closer to what we get from natural infections,” Evans said.

The University of Montana center is researching the treatment of several problems not commonly thought of as treatable with vaccines. They are entering the first phase of clinical trials for a vaccine for allergies, for instance, and first-phase trials for a cancer vaccine. And later this year, clinical trials will begin for vaccines to block the effects of opioids like heroin and fentanyl. The University of Montana received the largest grant in its history, $33 million, for anti-opioid vaccine research. It works by creating an antibody that binds with the drug in the bloodstream, which keeps it from entering the brain and creating the high.

For now, though, the eyes of health care experts around the world are on the trials for the new TB vaccines, which, if they are successful, could help save countless lives in the world’s poorest places.

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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Medicare’s Push To Improve Chronic Care Attracts Businesses, but Not Many Doctors

Carrie Lester looks forward to the phone call every Thursday from her doctors’ medical assistant, who asks how she’s doing and if she needs prescription refills. The assistant counsels her on dealing with anxiety and her other health issues.

Lester credits the chats for keeping her out of the hospital and reducing the need for clinic visits to manage chronic conditions including depression, fibromyalgia, and hypertension.

“Just knowing someone is going to check on me is comforting,” said Lester, 73, who lives with her dogs, Sophie and Dolly, in Independence, Kansas.

At least two-thirds of Medicare enrollees have two or more chronic health conditions, federal data shows. That makes them eligible for a federal program that, since 2015, has rewarded doctors for doing more to manage their health outside office visits.

But while early research found the service, called Chronic Care Management, reduced emergency room and in-patient hospital visits and lowered total health spending, uptake has been sluggish.

Federal data from 2019 shows just 4% of potentially eligible enrollees participated in the program, a figure that appears to have held steady through 2023, according to a Mathematica analysis. About 12,000 physicians billed Medicare under the CCM mantle in 2021, according to the latest Medicare data analyzed by KFF Health News. (The Medicare data includes doctors who have annually billed CCM at least a dozen times.)

By comparison, federal data shows about 1 million providers participate in Medicare.

Even as the strategy has largely failed to live up to its potential, thousands of physicians have boosted their annual pay by participating, and auxiliary for-profit businesses have sprung up to help doctors take advantage of the program. The federal data showed about 4,500 physicians received at least $100,000 each in CCM pay in 2021.

Through the CCM program, Medicare pays to develop a patient care plan, coordinate treatment with specialists, and regularly check in with beneficiaries. Medicare pays doctors a monthly average of $62 per patient, for 20 minutes of work with each, according to companies in the business.

Without the program, providers often have little incentive to spend time coordinating care because they can’t bill Medicare for such services.

Health policy experts say a host of factors limit participation in the program. Chief among them is that it requires both doctors and patients to opt in. Doctors may not have the capacity to regularly monitor patients outside office visits. Some also worry about meeting the strict Medicare documentation requirements for reimbursement and are reluctant to ask patients to join a program that may require a monthly copayment if they don’t have a supplemental policy.

“This program had potential to have a big impact,” said Kenneth Thorpe, an Emory University health policy expert on chronic diseases. “But I knew it was never going to work from the start because it was put together wrong.”

He said most doctors’ offices are not set up for monitoring patients at home. “This is very time-intensive and not something physicians are used to doing or have time to do,” Thorpe said.

For patients, the CCM program is intended to expand the type of care offered in traditional, fee-for-service Medicare to match benefits that — at least in theory — they may get through Medicare Advantage, which is administered by private insurers.

But the CCM program is open to both Medicare and Medicare Advantage beneficiaries.

The program was also intended to boost pay to primary care doctors and other physicians who are paid significantly less by Medicare than specialists, said Mark Miller, a former executive director of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which advises Congress. He’s currently an executive vice president of Arnold Ventures, a philanthropic organization focused on health policy. (The organization has also provided funding for KFF Health News.)

Despite the allure of extra money, some physicians have been put off by the program’s upfront costs.

“It may seem like easy money for a physician practice, but it is not,” said Namirah Jamshed, a physician at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Jamshed said the CCM program was cumbersome to implement because her practice was not used to documenting time spent with patients outside the office, a challenge that included finding a way to integrate the data into electronic health records. Another challenge was hiring staff to handle patient calls before her practice started getting reimbursed by the program.

Only about 10% of the practice’s Medicare patients are enrolled in CCM, she said.

Jamshed said her practice has been approached by private companies looking to do the work, but the practice demurred out of concerns about sharing patients’ health information and the cost of retaining the companies. Those companies can take more than half of what Medicare pays doctors for their CCM work.

Physician Jennifer Bacani McKenney, who runs a family medicine practice in Fredonia, Kansas, with her father — where Carrie Lester is a patient — said the CCM program has worked well.

She said having a system to keep in touch with patients at least once a month has reduced their use of emergency rooms — including for some who were prone to visits for nonemergency reasons, such as running out of medication or even feeling lonely. The CCM funding enables the practice’s medical assistant to call patients regularly to check in, something it could not afford before.

For a small practice, having a staffer who can generate extra revenue makes a big difference, McKenney said.

While she estimates about 90% of their patients would qualify for the program, only about 20% are enrolled. One reason is that not everyone needs or wants the calls, she said.

While the program has captured interest among internists and family medicine doctors, it has also paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to specialists, such as those in cardiology, urology, and gastroenterology, the KFF Health News analysis found. Primary care doctors are often seen as the ones who coordinate patient care, making the payments to specialists notable.

A federally funded study by Mathematica in 2017 found the CCM program saves Medicare $74 per patient per month, or $888 per patient per year — due mostly to a decreased need for hospital care.

The study quoted providers who were unhappy with attempts to outsource CCM work. “Third-party companies out there turn this into a racket,” the study cited one physician as saying, noting companies employ nurses who don’t know patients.

Nancy McCall, a Mathematica researcher who co-authored the 2017 study, said doctors are not the only resistance point. “Patients may not want to be bothered or asked if they are exercising or losing weight or watching their salt intake,” she said.

Still, some physician groups say it’s convenient to outsource the program.

UnityPoint Health, a large integrated health system based in Iowa, tried doing chronic care management on its own, but found it administratively burdensome, said Dawn Welling, the UnityPoint Clinic’s chief nursing officer.

For the past year, it has contracted with a Miami-based company, HealthSnap, to enroll patients, have its nurses make check-in calls each month, and help with billing. HealthSnap helps manage care for over 16,000 of UnityHealth’s Medicare patients — a small fraction of its Medicare patients, which includes those enrolled in Medicare Advantage.

Some doctors were anxious about sharing patient records and viewed the program as a sign they weren’t doing enough for patients, Welling said. But she said the program has been helpful, particularly to many enrollees who are isolated and need help changing their diet and other behaviors to improve health.

“These are patients who call the clinic regularly and have needs, but not always clinical needs,” Welling said.

Samson Magid, CEO of HealthSnap, said more doctors have started participating in the CCM program since Medicare increased pay in 2022 for 20 minutes of work, to $62 from $41, and added billing codes for additional time.

To help ensure patients pick up the phone, caller ID shows HealthSnap calls as coming from their doctor’s office, not from wherever the company’s nurse might be located. The company also hires nurses from different regions so they may speak with dialects similar to those of the patients they work with, Magid said.

He said some enrollees have been in the program for three years and many could stay enrolled for life — which means they can bill patients and Medicare long-term.

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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Paris Hilton Speaks up for California’s ‘Troubled’ Teens

Kaiser Health News:States - April 17, 2024

Heiress Paris Hilton is on a mission to shine a light on the “troubled teen industry,” a largely unregulated multibillion-dollar industry that is gaining public scrutiny for alleged abuse of vulnerable youths.

Hilton told state lawmakers in Sacramento on Monday she was subjected to abuse disguised as therapy decades ago when she was housed in residential facilities for teenagers struggling with substance abuse, mental illness and problematic behavior. 

She testified at the state Capitol in support of a bill ordering disclosure of the use of restraints or seclusion rooms in disciplining minors at residential facilities.

“When I close my eyes at night, I still have nightmares about solitary confinement 20 years later,” said Hilton, 43, at a news conference before the hearing. “The sounds of my peers screaming as they were physically restrained by numerous staff members and injected with sedatives will also never leave me.”

Having already won regulation in several other states, Hilton made clear that she wants federal oversight of the mental and behavioral health facilities — even as the reality star bumps up against the reality of this contentious Congress.

“If you are abusing children, I will find out,” Hilton said. “I will find you and I will come with my huge spotlight and shine it on wherever you are.”

Hilton visited D.C. last year to advocate the federal Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act, which would establish best practices and transparency in youth residential care programs.

But the proposal is stalled in Congress, and similar federal efforts have failed for more than a decade.

After the 2020 release of the documentary “This is Paris,” in which Hilton details abuses that she said she faced while attending Provo Canyon School in Provo, Utah, she has testified at state capitols, supporting successful bills in Missouri, Montana, Oregon and Utah.

Now, fresh off the Coachella slide with pal Kesha, Hilton is eyeing the most populous state.

There is no formal opposition to the bipartisan bill, which passed unanimously out of the state Senate’s Human Services Committee. It still has multiple steps before passage, including consideration by the full membership of both houses of the legislature.

The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, the nation’s largest such member organization, told KFF Health News that it supports the California bill as well as federal proposals.

Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, the bill’s lead author, said the goal is to protect young people housed in short-term residential therapeutic programs. Her legislation would require the California Department of Social Services — which licenses the facilities — to produce a public dashboard by 2026 on the use of restraints and seclusion rooms as well as serious injuries or deaths associated with them.

“There are complaints of broken arms, slammed hands in doors,” Grove said, noting that the facilities typically house vulnerable populations, including foster youths. “There’s no data to show what happened and what caused that. And so, the goal is to go after the data.”

Grove certainly found an ally in Hilton and her 16.4 million followers on the social platform X.

This article is not available for syndication due to republishing restrictions. If you have questions about the availability of this or other content for republication, please contact

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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To Stop Fentanyl Deaths in Philadelphia, Knocking on Doors and Handing Out Overdose Kits

Kaiser Health News:States - April 17, 2024

On a narrow street lined with row houses and an auto body shop in the Kensington neighborhood of North Philadelphia, Marsella Elie climbs a home’s front steps and knocks hard on the door.

A middle-aged man appears with a wary look on his face.

“Hello, sir, how are you doing today?” asked Elie, wearing a royal-blue jacket embroidered with the city government’s Liberty Bell logo. “My name is Marsella. I’m working with the city. You heard about the overdoses that are going around in the neighborhood, right?”

The man gives a cautious nod.

Elie gestures to the pamphlets she’s holding about drug overdoses and addiction treatment programs. She holds up a box of Narcan, a brand of naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose.

“What we’re trying to do is get this in everybody’s household. Have you ever heard of this before?” Elie asked before handing the man a tote bag filled with more pamphlets, fentanyl test strips, and the box of Narcan.

Elie and other part-time city workers and volunteers are part of a large-scale, citywide door-to-door campaign in Philadelphia that aims to equip homes with naloxone and other drug overdose prevention supplies.

City officials hope that this proactive approach will normalize naloxone as an everyday item in the medicine cabinet, and prevent people from dying of overdoses, especially Black residents.

In Philadelphia in 2022, a record 1,413 people died from drug overdoses, according to city data. Among Black residents, deaths were up 20% from the year before, with many happening in private homes.

“The best thing we can do to make these things more accessible is to just give them to people,” said Keli McLoyd, deputy director of the city’s Opioid Response Unit, speaking about the tote bag with naloxone and other supplies. “We’re not asking you if you’re using drugs. The goal here is really to build sort of a collective responsibility. As Black and brown folks, as we saw during the covid epidemic, nobody’s coming to save us. For us, this is a tool that we can use to save ourselves.”

The canvassing initiative aims to take prevention supplies directly to people who might not otherwise seek it out themselves, and to spread awareness about overdoses beyond Kensington, the epicenter of the city’s addiction epidemic. Canvassers plan to knock on more than 100,000 doors in Philadelphia’s “hot spots” — ZIP codes with escalating rates of opioid overdoses, many in minority communities.

Widening racial disparities in overdose deaths are among the long-term consequences of the war on drugs, McLoyd said. Policies from that national anti-drug campaign led to decades of aggressive police tactics, racial profiling, and lengthy prison sentences, disproportionately affecting people of color and their communities.

Research shows that Black Americans still account for a disproportionate number of drug arrests and child protective services.

“Because of that, it’s very clear why Black or brown people might be hesitant to raise their hand and say, ‘I’m a person who uses drugs, I need those resources,’” McLoyd said.

Other communities have distributed naloxone and other supplies, albeit on a smaller scale than Philadelphia.

What Philadelphia is doing could become a model for other densely populated places, said Daliah Heller, vice president of drug use initiatives at Vital Strategies, a public health organization working with local governments in seven states to address the opioid epidemic.

“There’s something intensely personal about a human engagement,” Heller said. “And somebody knocking at your door to talk about drug use and overdose risk and that there’s something that can be done, I think is really powerful.”

Over the years, naloxone has become more accessible than ever before, Heller pointed out. It can now be ordered online and through the mail, it’s available in specialized vending machines, and some drugstores now sell Narcan nasal spray over the counter.

But tens of thousands of Americans are still dying from opioid overdoses every year. That means prevention efforts and messaging about the crisis are still not reaching some people, Heller said. And to her, reaching people means meeting them where they are. “That means physically, that means in terms of what they know about something, what their perception is of something, and their beliefs,” she said. “We need to think like that when we think about naloxone distribution.”

The Philadelphia canvassing project is funded in part by the city’s share of settlement payouts from national lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors. The city is set to receive about $200 million over roughly 18 years from settlements with AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson, and Johnson & Johnson.

The initiative is staffed by many of the same people who initially started canvassing as part of the 2020 census count.

Not everyone answers the door for the canvassers. Some aren’t home when they come around. In those cases, workers hang a flyer on the door handle that offers information about overdose risks and contacts for further resources. The teams of canvassers, often with language interpreters, later make a second sweep through a neighborhood to reach people they missed the first time.

On a recent Thursday, Philadelphia canvassers were knocking on doors in the Franklinville and Hunting Park neighborhoods. In this ZIP code, about 85 people died of drug overdoses in 2022, according to city data. That’s fewer than the 193 people who died of overdoses in Kensington in 2022, but much higher than the few deaths seen in the city’s most affluent neighborhoods.

The canvassers approached a resident, Katherine Camacho, on the sidewalk, as she came out of her garage. Camacho told the teams she was aware of the overdose problem in her community and then eagerly accepted a box of Narcan.

“I will carry this with me, because, like I said, sometimes you’re in the street driving somewhere and you could save a life,” Camacho told them. “And if you don’t have these things, it’s harder to do so, right?”

Camacho said she’s seen how the opioid crisis has caused suffering in her neighborhood and across the city. As for Philadelphia’s canvassing effort, she said she believes that “God is putting these people to help.”

As she headed into her house carrying the box of Narcan, Camacho said she wanted to do her part to help, too.

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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Native Americans Have Shorter Life Spans. Better Health Care Isn’t the Only Answer.

Kaiser Health News:States - April 17, 2024

HISLE, S.D. — Katherine Goodlow is only 20, but she has experienced enough to know that people around her are dying too young.

Goodlow, a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, said she’s lost six friends and acquaintances to suicide, two to car crashes, and one to appendicitis. Four of her relatives died in their 30s or 40s, from causes such as liver failure and covid-19, she said. And she recently lost a 1-year-old nephew.

“Most Native American kids and young people lose their friends at a young age,” said Goodlow, who is considering becoming a mental health therapist to help her community. “So, I’d say we’re basically used to it, but it hurts worse every time we lose someone.”

Native Americans tend to die much earlier than white Americans. Their median age at death was 14 years younger, according to an analysis of 2018-21 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The disparity is even greater in Goodlow’s home state. Indigenous South Dakotans who died between 2017 and 2021 had a median age of 58 — 22 years younger than white South Dakotans, according to state data.

Donald Warne, a physician who is co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health and a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, can rattle off the most common medical conditions and accidents killing Native Americans.

But what’s ultimately behind this low life expectancy, agree Warne and many other experts on Indigenous health, are social and economic forces. They argue that in addition to bolstering medical care and fully funding the Indian Health Service — which provides health care to Native Americans — there needs to be a greater investment in case management, parenting classes, and home visits.

“It’s almost blasphemy for a physician to say,” but “the answer to addressing these things is not hiring more doctors and nurses,” Warne said. “The answer is having more community-based preventions.”

The Indian Health Service funds several kinds of these programs, including community health worker initiatives, and efforts to increase access to fresh produce and traditional foods.

Private insurers and state Medicaid programs, including South Dakota’s, are increasingly covering such services. But insurers don’t pay for all the services and aren’t reaching everyone who qualifies, according to Warne and the National Academy for State Health Policy.

Warne pointed to Family Spirit, a program developed by the Johns Hopkins center to improve health outcomes for Indigenous mothers and children.

Chelsea Randall, the director of maternal and child health at the Great Plains Tribal Leaders’ Health Board, said community health workers educate Native pregnant women and connect them with resources during home visits.

“We can be with them throughout their pregnancy and be supportive and be the advocate for them,” said Randall, whose organization runs Family Spirit programs across seven reservations in the Dakotas, and in Rapid City, South Dakota.

The community health workers help families until children turn 3, teaching parenting skills, family planning, drug abuse prevention, and stress management. They can also integrate the tribe’s culture by, for example, using their language or birthing traditions.

The health board funds Family Spirit through a grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, Randall said. Community health workers, she said, use some of that money to provide child car seats and to teach parents how to properly install them to counter high rates of fatal crashes.

Other causes of early Native American deaths include homicide, drug overdoses, and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, Warne said. Native Americans also suffer a disproportionate number of infant and maternal deaths.

The crisis is evident in the obituaries from the Sioux Funeral Home, which mostly serves Lakota people from the Pine Ridge Reservation and surrounding area. The funeral home’s Facebook page posts obituaries for older adults, but also for many infants, toddlers, teenagers, young adults, and middle-aged residents.

Misty Merrival, who works at the funeral home, blames poor living conditions. Some community members struggle to find healthy food or afford heat in the winter, she said. They may live in homes with broken windows or that are crowded with extended family members. Some neighborhoods are strewn with trash, including intravenous needles and broken bottles.

Seeing all these premature deaths has inspired Merrival to keep herself and her teenage daughter healthy by abstaining from drugs and driving safely. They also talk every day about how they’re feeling, as a suicide-prevention strategy.

“We’ve made a promise to each other that we wouldn’t leave each other like that,” Merrival said.

Many Native Americans live in small towns or on poor, rural reservations. But rurality alone doesn’t explain the gap in life expectancy. For example, white people in rural Montana live 17 years longer, on average, than Native Americans in the state, according to state data reported by Lee Enterprises newspapers.

Many Indigenous people also face racism or personal trauma from child or sexual abuse and exposure to drugs or violence, Warne said. Some also deal with generational trauma from government programs and policies that broke up families and tried to suppress Native American culture.

Even when programs are available, they’re not always accessible.

Families without strong internet connections can’t easily make video appointments. Some lack cars or gas money to travel to clinics, and public transportation options are limited.

Randall, the health board official, is pregnant and facing her own transportation struggles.

It’s a three-hour round trip between her home in the town of Pine Ridge and her prenatal appointments in Rapid City. Randall has had to cancel several appointments when family members couldn’t lend their cars.

Goodlow, the 20-year-old who has lost several loved ones, lives with seven other people in her mother’s two-bedroom house along a gravel road. Their tiny community on the Pine Ridge Reservation has homes and ranches but no stores.

Goodlow attended several suicide-prevention presentations in high school. But the programs haven’t stopped the deaths. One friend recently killed herself after enduring the losses of her son, mother, best friend, and a niece and nephew.

A month later, another friend died from a burst appendix at age 17, Goodlow said. The next day, Goodlow woke up to find one of her grandmother’s parakeets had died. That afternoon, she watched one of her dogs die after having seizures.

“I thought it was like some sign,” Goodlow said. “I started crying and then I started thinking, ‘Why is this happening to me?’”

Warne said the overall conditions on some reservations can create despair. But those same reservations, including Pine Ridge, also contain flourishing art scenes and language and cultural revitalization programs. And not all Native American communities are poor.

Warne said federal, state, and tribal governments need to work together to improve life expectancy. He encourages tribes to negotiate contracts allowing them to manage their own health care facilities with federal dollars because that can open funding streams not available to the Indian Health Service.

Katrina Fuller is the health director at Siċaŋġu Co, a nonprofit group on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Fuller, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said the organization works toward “wicozani,” or the good way of life, which encompasses the physical, emotional, cultural, and financial health of the community.

Siċaŋġu Co programs include bison restoration, youth development, a Lakota language immersion school, financial education, and food sovereignty initiatives.

“Some people out here that are struggling, they have dreams, too. They just need the resources, the training, even the moral support,” Fuller said. “I had one person in our health coaching class tell me they just really needed someone to believe in them, that they could do it.”

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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Paris Hilton Backs California Bill Requiring Sunshine on ‘Troubled Teen Industry’

Kaiser Health News:States - April 17, 2024

Celebrity hotel heiress Paris Hilton is backing California lawmakers’ push to increase the transparency of residential teen therapeutic centers by requiring these programs to report the use of restraints or seclusion rooms in disciplining minors.

“We shouldn’t be placing youth in facilities without knowing what these children will be subjected to,” Hilton testified Monday to the Senate Human Services Committee in Sacramento. “The Accountability in Children’s Treatment Act is a simple transparency measure that would make a lasting impact and show the world what truly happens behind closed doors.”

Hilton, 43, has become a high-profile advocate for getting tough on what she describes as the “troubled teen industry,” which promises to rehabilitate teenagers struggling with substance abuse, mental illness, and problematic behavior. Such programs lack federal oversight and have been exposed for riots, assaults, and even deaths of minors, prompting a pushback to protect the rights of young people.

After releasing a documentary in 2020 detailing abuse she faced while attending Provo Canyon School in Provo, Utah, as a teenager, Hilton traveled back to the state, helping pass a bill strengthening inspection and oversight of the industry. Advocates have successfully passed related laws in Illinois, Missouri, Montana, and Oregon.

Last year, Hilton went to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the federal Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act, which would establish best practices and transparency in youth residential care programs. But national efforts have failed for more than a decade and the latest proposal has been stalled for a year.

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Now, Hilton and others are eyeing the most populous state as an opportunity for change.

Senate Bill 1043 is a bipartisan bill by Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove and authored also by Democratic Sens. Aisha Wahab and Angelique Ashby. The bill aims to protect young people housed in short-term residential therapeutic programs licensed by the California Department of Social Services by requiring the agency to produce a public dashboard by 2026 on the use of restraint and seclusion rooms, and when it results in serious injuries or death. It would also require foster parents and guardians to be notified when restraints and seclusion rooms are used on minors.

“There are complaints of broken arms, slammed hands in doors,” said Grove, who noted that these facilities typically house vulnerable populations, including foster youth. “There’s no data to show what happened and what caused that. And so, the goal is to go after the data.”

There was no formal opposition. The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, the nation’s largest such member organization, told KFF Health News that it supports the California bill.

During Monday’s hearing, Hilton shared that while she was housed at facilities in California, Utah, and Montana, she was subjected to abuse disguised as therapy. She said if she tried to tell her parents about the abuse, facility staff would rip the phone from her hand, restrain her, and force her into solitary confinement.

“When I close my eyes at night, I still have nightmares about solitary confinement 20 years later,” Hilton said. “The sounds of my peers screaming as they were physically restrained by numerous staff members and injected with sedatives will also never leave me.”

Zoe Schreiber, another survivor, said she was sent at age 13 to a Utah facility, where she was restrained face down in the mud by six adults for hours in the rain. Schreiber described enduring seclusion, hard labor, and humiliation for four years.

Democratic state Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil, who chairs the Human Services Committee, said she had worked in such residential treatment facilities and noticed that staff often didn’t have proper training.

“I don’t think they’re all bad, but I do think the ones that are bad, that impact the trauma of our children, that are unregulated, that are unstructured, that do not have evidence-based programming — I wonder how we get away with that here in California,” Alvarado-Gil said.

Wahab said it’s important for California to act in the absence of a federal bill. California enacted related legislation in 2021 to prevent the state from sending foster children to out-of-state facilities.

“I’m hoping that we do some justice to the kids here,” Wahab said.

The Senate Human Services Committee passed SB 1043 on a 5-0 vote. The bill now goes to the Appropriations Committee.

This article was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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FDA Announces Recall of Heart Pumps Linked to Deaths and Injuries

A pair of heart devices linked to hundreds of injuries and at least 14 deaths has received the FDA’s most serious recall, the agency announced Monday.

Related Article Patients Facing Death Are Opting for a Lifesaving Heart Device — But at What Risk?

The HeartMate 3 is considered the safest mechanical heart pump of its kind, but a federal database contains more than 4,500 reports in which the medical device may have caused or contributed to a patient’s death.

Read More

The recall comes years after surgeons say they first noticed problems with the HeartMate II and HeartMate 3, manufactured by Thoratec Corp., a subsidiary of Abbott Laboratories. The devices are not currently being removed from the market. In an emailed response, Abbott said it had communicated the risk to customers this year.

The delayed action raises questions for some safety advocates about how and when issues with approved medical devices should be reported. The heart devices in question have been associated with thousands of reports of patients’ injuries and deaths, as described in a KFF Health News investigation late last year.

“Why doesn’t the public know?” said Sanket Dhruva, a cardiologist and an expert in medical device safety and regulation at the University of California-San Francisco. Though some surgeons may have been aware of issues, others, particularly those who do not implant the device frequently, may have been in the dark. “And their patients are suffering adverse events,” he said.

The recall involves a pair of mechanical pumps that help the heart pump blood when it can’t do so on its own. The devices, small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, are implanted in patients with end-stage heart failure who are waiting for a transplant or as a permanent solution when a transplant is not an option. The recall affects nearly 14,000 devices.

Amanda Hils, an FDA press officer, said the agency is working with Abbott to investigate the reported injuries and deaths and determine if further action is needed.

“To date, the number of deaths reported appears consistent with the adverse events observed in the initial clinical trial,” Hils said in an email.

According to the FDA’s recall notice, the devices can cause buildup of “biological material” that reduces their ability to help the heart circulate blood and keep patients alive. The buildup accumulates gradually and can appear two years or more after a device is implanted in a patient’s chest.

Doctors were advised to watch out for “low-flow alarms” on the devices and, if they do diagnose the obstruction, to either monitor the patient or perform surgery to implant a stent, release the blockage, or replace the pump. “Rates of outflow obstruction are low,” Abbott spokesperson Justin Paquette said in an email, adding that patients whose devices are functioning normally “have no reason for concern.”

A review of the FDA device database shows at least 130 reports related to HeartMate II or 3 that mention the complication reported by regulators. The earliest such report filed with the FDA dates to at least 2020, according to a KFF Health News review of the database.

Monday’s alert is the second Class 1 recall of a HeartMate device this year.

In January, Abbott issued an urgent “correction letter” to hospitals about a separate issue in which the HeartMate 3 unintentionally starts and stops due to the pump’s communication system, which cardiologists use to assess patients’ status. The FDA alerted the public in March.

In February, Abbott issued another urgent letter to hospitals about the blockage problem, asking them to inform physicians, complete and return an acknowledgment form, and pay attention to low-flow alarms on the device’s monitor that may indicate an obstruction. The company said in the letter that it is working on “a design solution” to prevent the blockages.

A study published in 2022 in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery reported the obstruction in about 3% of cases, though the incidence rate was higher the longer a patient had the device.

The only other Class 1 recall issued for the HeartMate 3 was in May 2018, when the company issued corrective action notices to hospitals and physicians warning that the graft line that carries blood from the pump to the aorta could twist and stop blood flow.

The FDA recall notice issued Monday includes additional guidance for physicians to diagnose the blockage using an algorithm to detect obstructions and, if needed, a CT angiogram to verify the cause.

At present, the HeartMate 3, which was first approved by the FDA in 2017, is the only medical option for many patients with end-stage heart failure and who do not qualify for a transplant. The HeartMate 3 has supplanted the HeartMate II, which received FDA approval in 2008.

If the new recall leads to the device being removed from the market, end-stage heart failure patients could have no options, said Francis Pagani, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Michigan who also oversees a proprietary database of HeartMate II and HeartMate 3 implants.

If that happens, “we are in trouble,” Pagani said. “It would be devastating to the patients to not have this option. It’s not a perfect option — no pump ever is — but this is as good as it’s ever been.”

It’s not known precisely how many patients have received a HeartMate II or HeartMate 3 implant. That information is proprietary. The FDA recall notices show worldwide distribution of more than 22,000 HeartMate 3 devices and more than 2,200 of the HeartMate II.

The blockage complication may have gone unreported to the public for so long partly because physicians are not required to report adverse events to federal regulators, said Madris Kinard, a former FDA medical device official and founder of Device Events, a company that makes FDA device data more user-friendly for hospitals, law firms, and investors.

Only device manufacturers, device importers, and hospitals are required by law to report device-related injuries, deaths, and significant malfunctions to the FDA.

“If this is something physicians were aware of, but they weren’t mandated to report to the FDA,” Kinard said, “at what point does that communication between those two groups need to happen?”

Dhruva, the cardiologist, said he is looking for transparency from Abbott about what the company is doing to address the problem so he can have more thorough conversations with patients considering a HeartMate device.

“We’re going to expect to have some data saying, ‘Hey we created this fix, and this fix works, and it doesn’t cause a new problem.’ That’s what I want to know,” he said. “There’s just a ton more that I feel in the dark about, to be honest, and I’m sure that patients and their families do as well.”

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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Secretary Becerra Statement on U.S. Global Health Security Strategy

HHS Gov News - April 16, 2024
Secretary’s Statement on U.S. Global Health Security Strategy

Why Opioid Settlement Money Is Paying County Employees’ Salaries

More than $4.3 billion in opioid settlement money has landed in the hands of city, county and state officials to date — with billions more on the way. But instead of using the cash to add desperately needed treatment, recovery and prevention services, some places are using it to replace existing funding.

Local officials say they’re trying to stretch tight budgets, especially in rural areas. But critics say it’s a lost opportunity to bolster responses to an ongoing addiction crisis and save lives.

“To think that replacing what you’re already spending with settlement funds is going to make things better — it’s not,” said Robert Kent, former general counsel for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Certainly, the spirit of the settlements wasn’t to keep doing what you’re doing. It was to do more.”

The debate is playing out in Scott County, Ind. The rural community made headlines in 2015 after intravenous drug use led to a massive HIV outbreak and then-Gov. Mike Pence (R) legalized syringe service programs. (The county has since shuttered its syringe program.) 

In 2022, the county received more than $570,000 in opioid settlement funds. It spent about 45 percent of that on salaries for its health director and emergency medical services staff, according to reports it filed with the state. The money usually budgeted for those salaries was freed to buy an ambulance and create a rainy-day fund for the health department.

In public meetings, Scott County leaders said they hoped to reimburse the departments for resources they dedicated to the HIV outbreak years ago. 

Their conversations echo the struggles of other rural counties, which have tight budgets in part because for years they poured money into combating the opioid crisis. Now they want to recoup some of those expenses.

But many families affected by addiction, recovery advocates, and legal and public health experts say that misses the point, that the settlements were aimed at helping the nation make progress against the overdose epidemic.

Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., have restricted substituting opioid settlement funds for existing government spending, according to state guides created by and the public health organization Vital Strategies. A national set of principles created by Johns Hopkins University also advises against the practice, known as supplantation.

But it’s happening anyway. 

County commissioners in Blair County, Pa., used about $320,000 of settlement funds for a drug court that has been operating with other sources of money for more than two decades, according to a report the county filed with a state council overseeing settlement funds.

In New York, some lawmakers and treatment advocates say the governor’s proposed budget substitutes millions of opioid settlement dollars for a portion of the state addiction agency’s normal funding.

Given the complexities of state and local budgets, it’s often difficult to spot supplantation. But one place to start is identifying how much opioid settlement money your community has received so far. Use our searchable database to find out. Then ask elected officials how they’re spending those dollars. In many places, dedicated citizens are the only watchdogs for this money.

If you discover anything interesting, shoot me a note.

This article is not available for syndication due to republishing restrictions. If you have questions about the availability of this or other content for republication, please contact

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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Conservative Justices Stir Trouble for Republican Politicians on Abortion

Kaiser Health News:States - April 16, 2024

Abortion opponents have maneuvered in courthouses for years to end access to reproductive health care. In Arizona last week, a win for the anti-abortion camp caused political blowback for Republican candidates in the state and beyond.

The reaction echoed the response to an Alabama Supreme Court decision over in vitro fertilization just two months before.

The election-year ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court allowing enforcement of a law from 1864 banning nearly all abortions startled Republican politicians, some of whom quickly turned to social media to denounce it.

The court decision was yet another development forcing many Republicans legislators and candidates to thread the needle: Maintain support among anti-abortion voters while not damaging their electoral prospects this fall. This shifting power dynamic between state judges and state lawmakers has turned into a high-stakes political gamble, at times causing daunting problems, on a range of reproductive health issues, for Republican candidates up and down the ballot.

“When the U.S. Supreme Court said give it back to the states, OK, well now the microscope is on the states,” said Jennifer Piatt, co-director of the Center for Public Health Law and Policy at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “We saw this in Alabama with the IVF decision,” she said, “and now we’re seeing it in Arizona.”

Multiple Republicans have criticized the Arizona high court’s decision on the 1864 law, which allows abortion only to save a pregnant woman’s life. “This decision cannot stand. I categorically reject rolling back the clock to a time when slavery was still legal and where we could lock up women and doctors because of an abortion,” state Rep. Matt Gress said in a video April 9. All four Arizona Supreme Court justices who said the long-dormant Arizona abortion ban could be enforced were appointed by former Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who in 2016 expanded the number of state Supreme Court justices from five to seven and cemented the bench’s conservative majority.

Yet in a post the day of the ruling on the social platform X, Ducey said the decision “is not the outcome I would have preferred.”

The irony is that the decision came after years of efforts by Arizona Republicans “to lock in a conservative majority on the court at the same time that the state’s politics were shifting more towards the middle,” said Douglas Keith, senior counsel at the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice.

All the while, anti-abortion groups have been pressuring Republicans to clearly define where they stand.

“Whether running for office at the state or federal level, Arizona Republicans cannot adopt the losing ostrich strategy of burying their heads in the sand on the issue of abortion and allowing Democrats to define them,” Kelsey Pritchard, a spokesperson for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said in an emailed statement. “To win, Republicans must be clear on the pro-life protections they support, express compassion for women and unborn children, and contrast their position with the Democrat agenda.”

Two months before the Arizona decision, the Alabama Supreme Court said frozen embryos from in vitro fertilization can be considered children under state law. The decision prompted clinics across the state to halt fertility treatments and caused a nationwide uproar over reproductive health rights. With Republicans feeling the heat, Alabama lawmakers scrambled to pass a law to shield IVF providers from prosecution and civil lawsuits “for the damage to or death of an embryo” during treatment.

But when it comes to courts, Arizona lawmakers are doubling down: state Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor but generally face voters every six years in retention elections. That could soon change. A constitutional amendment referred by the Arizona Legislature that could appear on the November ballot would eliminate those regular elections — triggering them only under limited circumstances — and allow the justices to serve as long as they exhibit “good behavior.” Effectively it would grant justices lifetime appointments until age 70, when they must retire.

Even with the backlash against the Arizona court’s abortion decision, Keith said, “I suspect there aren’t Republicans in the state right now who are lamenting all these changes to entrench a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, abortion rights groups are trying to get a voter-led state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would protect abortion access until fetal viability and allow abortions afterward to protect the life or health of the pregnant person.

State court decisions are causing headaches even at the very top of the Republican ticket. In an announcement in which he declined to endorse a national abortion ban, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on April 8 said he was “proudly the person responsible” for ending Roe v. Wade, which recognized a federal constitutional right to abortion before being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022, and said the issue should be left to states. “The states will determine by vote or legislation, or perhaps both, and whatever they decide must be the law of the land,” he said. But just two days later he sought to distance himself from the Arizona decision. Trump also praised the Alabama Legislature for enacting the law aiming to preserve access to fertility treatments. “The Republican Party should always be on the side of the miracle of life,” he said.

Recent court decisions on reproductive health issues in Alabama, Arizona, and Florida will hardly be the last. The Iowa Supreme Court, which underwent a conservative overhaul in recent years, on April 11 heard arguments on the state’s near-total abortion ban. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it into law in 2023 but it has been blocked in court.

In Florida, there was disappointment all around after dueling state Supreme Court decisions this month that simultaneously paved the way for a near-total abortion ban and also allowed a ballot measure that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution to proceed.

The Florida high court’s decisions were “simply unacceptable when five of the current seven sitting justices on the court were appointed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis,” Andrew Shirvell, executive director of the anti-abortion group Florida Voice for the Unborn, said in a statement. “Clearly, grassroots pro-life advocates have been misled by elements within the ‘pro-life, pro-family establishment’ because Florida’s highest court has now revealed itself to be a paper tiger when it comes to standing-up to the murderous abortion industry.”

Tension between state judicial systems and conservative legislators seems destined to continue given judges’ growing power over reproductive health access, Piatt said, with people on both sides of the political aisle asking: “Is this a court that is potentially going to give me politically what I’m looking for?”

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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California Health Workers May Face Rude Awakening With $25 Minimum Wage Law

Kaiser Health News:States - April 16, 2024

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Nearly a half-million health workers who stand to benefit from California’s nation-leading $25 minimum wage law could be in for a rude awakening if hospitals and other health care providers follow through on potential cuts to hours and benefits.

A medical industry challenge to a new minimum wage ordinance in one Southern California city suggests layoffs and reductions in hours and benefits, including cuts to premium pay and vacation time, could be one result of a state law set to begin phasing in in June. However, some experts are skeptical of that possibility.

The California Hospital Association brought a partly successful legal challenge to Inglewood’s $25 minimum wage ordinance, which barred employers from taking those sorts of steps to offset their higher costs.

“Layoffs, reductions in premium pay rates, reductions in non-wage benefits, reductions in hours, and increased charges are consequences of an employer having less money to spend—which will necessarily be the case given the significant increase in spending on wages due to the minimum wage,” the association said in its lawsuit. Additional examples include reducing health coverage and charging for parking or work-related equipment.

Inglewood voters approved the ordinance in November 2022, nearly a year before California legislators enacted a $25 minimum wage for health workers. Those statewide higher wages are to be phased in starting in June under California’s first-in-the-nation law, but Gov. Gavin Newsom has since said they are too expensive as the state faces a deficit estimated between $38 billion and $73 billion. It’s unclear if lawmakers will agree to a delay or take other steps to reduce the cost.

U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer agreed with the hospital industry in a March 11 tentative ruling when he shot down the portion of Inglewood’s ordinance banning layoffs and clawbacks by employers, while allowing the rest of the ordinance to remain in effect. He gave the sides time to object to his preliminary decision, though none did.

The California Hospital Association represents more than 400 hospitals and was a key backer of the state’s carefully crafted compromise law, which notably contains none of the employee safeguards included in the Inglewood ordinance.

Spokesperson Jan Emerson-Shea said the association doesn’t know how providers will react once the state law takes effect. “We don’t have any insights,” she said.

“The challenge for any health care organization is figuring out how to pay for the higher wages,” said Joanne Spetz, director of the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California-San Francisco. “Since labor costs are the largest part of any health care organization’s costs, it’s hard to figure out how to reduce spending without looking at labor costs.”

Providers can try to increase revenues by bargaining for higher reimbursements from commercial insurers, she said. Public hospitals, nursing homes, and community clinics get most of their money through Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

Providers could reduce the services they offer, pare back charity care, and cut or delay capital investments, Spetz said. In the long term, she expects some combination of spending cuts and revenue increases.

Both the state law and local ordinance cover far more than doctors and nurses, with a definition of health worker that includes janitors, housekeepers, groundskeepers, security guards, food service workers, laundry workers, and clerical staff.

The most recent estimate by the Health Care Program at the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center is that as many as 426,000 health workers would make an average of $6,400 extra in the law’s first year, a 19% average pay bump mainly benefiting lower-income workers of color and women. State finance officials project that well over 500,000 workers will benefit.

Researchers didn’t include layoffs and other potential staffing and benefit reductions when they projected the state law’s costs and benefits, said Laurel Lucia, the program’s director. But she pointed to initial projections by hospitals, doctors, and business and taxpayer groups that the wage hike would cost $8 billion annually, thereby imperiling services and resulting in higher premiums and higher costs for state and local governments.

“It seems like a contradiction to say this law’s going to cost billions of dollars while at the same time saying it’s going to reduce workers’ total compensation,” said Lucia, who projects a far lower price tag.

She added that state finance officials had anticipated that Medi-Cal reimbursements would reflect the increased labor costs, while Medicare would eventually at least partially compensate for the higher labor costs.

Michael Reich, chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, and affiliated economist Justin Wiltshire recently argued that California’s new $20 minimum wage law for fast-food workers won’t result in mass layoffs and price increases, as some have predicted.

Health care is much different than fast food, Reich acknowledged, but he argued for much the same positive result.

“A higher minimum wage will make it easier and cheaper for hospitals to recruit and retain these workers. The cost savings, and the productivity benefits of more experienced workers, could offset much of the labor cost increase,” Reich said.

The hospital association filed its lawsuit against Inglewood’s ordinance in July, while it was still opposing early versions of the statewide minimum wage legislation. Among many other provisions, the statewide law put on hold an initiative to cap hospital executives’ salaries in Los Angeles.

The hospital association’s legal challenge referenced in part layoffs and reduced working hours imposed by Centinela Hospital Medical Center after Inglewood’s ordinance took effect.

But Centinela said the reduction was entirely unrelated to the ordinance and that all staff were offered alternate positions, which many accepted.

“Centinela Hospital also has since added many more jobs in new clinical positions above minimum wage scale,” the hospital said in a statement.

Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, the prime backer of both the local ordinance and the statewide law, sued the hospital in April 2023 alleging that it cut workers’ hours to offset the higher minimum wage. The case is still pending.

The union did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In a court filing, however, the union and city of Inglewood said similar employer restrictions in previous minimum wage laws have survived.

The ordinance “merely sets the backdrop for collective bargaining negotiations,” and does not bar employers from locking out employees or hiring replacement workers during a strike. Employers can still lay off workers or reduce their hours, they said, so long as they don’t do so to fund the higher minimum wage.

But Fischer agreed with the hospital association that layoffs and reductions in employees’ total compensation packages are “obvious responses by an employer to rising compensation costs.”

Restricting employers’ options would violate federal labor relations rules, he said.

“The minimum wage an employer has to pay its employees will invariably affect the total amount of compensation it is able or willing to pay,” he wrote “This will then invariably affect the number of employees it can retain and the number of hours those employees will be scheduled to work.”

This article was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. 

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


This story can be republished for free (details).

Lawsuit Alleges Obamacare Plan-Switching Scheme Targeted Low-Income Consumers

A wide-ranging lawsuit filed Friday outlines a moneymaking scheme by which large insurance sales agency call centers enrolled people into Affordable Care Act plans or switched their coverage, all without their permission.

According to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, two such call centers paid tens of thousands of dollars a day to buy names of people who responded to misleading advertisements touting free government “subsidies” and other rewards. In turn, sales agents used the information to either enroll them in ACA plans or switch their existing policies without their consent.

As a result, the lawsuit alleges, consumers lost access to their doctors or medications and faced financial costs, such as owing money toward medical care or having to repay tax credits that were paid toward the unauthorized coverage.

Some consumers were switched multiple times or had duplicative policies.

“We allege there was a plan that targeted the poorest of Americans into enrolling in health insurance through deceptive ads and unauthorized switching,” to gain compensation for the sign-ups or capture the commissions that would have been paid to legitimate insurance agents, said Jason Doss, one of two lawyers who filed the case following a four-month investigation.

Doss and Jason Kellogg, the other lawyer on the case, which was filed on behalf of several affected policyholders and agents, are seeking class action status.

KFF Health News has in recent weeks reported on similar concerns raised by consumers and insurance agents.

Named as defendants are TrueCoverage and Enhance Health, which operate insurance call centers in Florida and other states; Speridian Technologies, a New Mexico-based limited liability company that owns and controls TrueCoverage; and Number One Prospecting, doing business as Minerva Marketing, which is also a lead-generating company. The lawsuit also names two people: Brandon Bowsky, founder and CEO of Minerva; and Matthew Herman, CEO of Enhance Health. Attempts to reach the companies for comment were unsuccessful.

According to the lawsuit, the call centers had access to policyholder accounts through “enhanced direct enrollment” platforms, including one called Benefitalign, owned by Speridian.

Such private sector platforms, which must be approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, streamline enrollment by integrating with the federal ACA marketplace, called The ones included in this case were not open to the public, but only to those call center agencies granted permission by the platforms.

One of the plaintiffs, Texas resident Conswallo Turner, signed up for ACA coverage in December through an agent she knew, and expected it to go into effect on Jan. 1, according to the lawsuit. Not long after, Turner saw an ad on Facebook promising a monthly cash card to help with household expenses.

She called the number on the ad and provided her name, date of birth, and state, the lawsuit says. Armed with that information, sales agents then changed her ACA coverage and the agent listed on it five times in just a few weeks, dropping coverage of her son along with way, all without her consent.

She ended up with a higher-deductible plan along with medical bills for her now-uninsured son, the lawsuit alleges. Her actual agent also lost the commission.

The lawsuit contains similar stories from other plaintiffs.

The routine worked, it alleges, by collecting names of people responding to online and social media ads claiming to offer monthly subsidies to help with rent or groceries. Those calls were recorded, the suit alleges, and the callers’ information obtained by TrueCoverage and Enhance Health.

The companies knew people were calling on the promise “of cash benefits that do not exist,” the lawsuit said. Instead, call center agents were encouraged to be “vague” about the money mentioned in the ads, which was actually the subsidies paid by the government to insurers toward the ACA plans.

The effort targeted people with low enough incomes to qualify for large subsidies that fully offset the monthly cost of their premium, the lawsuit alleges. The push began after March 2022, when a special enrollment period for low-income people became available, opening up a year-round opportunity to enroll in an ACA plan.

The suit asserts that those involved did not meet the privacy and security rules required for participation in the ACA marketplace. The lawsuit also alleges violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.

“Health insurance is important for people to have, but it’s also important to be sold properly,” said Doss, who said both consumers and legitimate agents can suffer when it’s not.

“It’s not a victimless crime to get zero-dollar health insurance if you don’t qualify for it and it ends up causing you tax or other problems down the road,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s so much fraud that legitimate agents who are really trying to help people are also being pushed out.”

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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Más condados prohíben el fluoruro en el agua potable. Cómo afecta a la prevención dental

Kaiser Health News:States - April 15, 2024

Regina Barrett, una jubilada de 69 años que vive en Monroe, una pequeña ciudad de Carolina del Norte, al sureste de Charlotte, hace tiempo que no está contenta con el agua del grifo.

“Nuestra agua ha estado turbia y burbujeante, y parece lechosa”, dijo Barrett, que culpa al fluoruro, un mineral que comunidades de todo el país han agregado durante décadas al suministro de agua para ayudar a prevenir las caries y mejorar la salud dental.

“¡No quiero flúor en nada!”, dijo Barrett, haciéndose eco de un número creciente de personas que no sólo dudan de la eficacia del mineral sino que también creen que puede ser perjudicial a pesar de décadas de datos que destacan sus beneficios económicos y para la salud pública.

En febrero, la Junta de Comisionados del Condado de Union, cuya sede es Monroe, votó 3-2 para dejar de agregar fluoruro al agua potable en la Planta de Tratamiento de Agua del Río Yadkin, la única fuente de agua operada por el condado, que es de su propiedad. Pero la decisión se produjo después de fuertes discusiones entre residentes y funcionarios.

“Mis hijos tuvieron la bendición de crecer con fluoruro en el agua y… tienen muy pocos problemas dentales”, dijo el comisionado Richard Helms antes de votar. Un colega lo vio de otra manera: “Dejemos de poner en el agua algo que esté destinado a tratarnos, y demos a la gente la libertad de elegir”, dijo David Williams.

El agua de Barrett proviene de la ciudad de Monroe, no de las instalaciones de Yadkin. Así que, por ahora, seguirá bebiendo agua enriquecida con fluoruro. “Sospecho de por qué agregan eso a nuestra agua”, dijo a KFF Health News.

Es un escenario que se desarrolla a nivel nacional. Desde Oregon hasta Pennsylvania, en los últimos años cientos de comunidades han dejado de agregar fluoruro a sus suministros de agua o han votado para evitar agregarlo.

Los partidarios de estas prohibiciones argumentan que a las personas se les debería dar libertad de elección. Dicen que la amplia disponibilidad de productos dentales de venta libre que contienen el mineral hace que ya no sea necesario agregarlo al suministro público de agua.

Los Centros para el Control y Prevención de Enfermedades (CDC) dicen que si bien los productos que se compran en tiendas reducen las caries, la mayor protección se produce cuando se usan en combinación con la fluoración del agua.

El resultado de un caso federal en curso en California podría obligar a la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA) a crear una norma que regule o prohíba el uso de fluoruro en el agua potable en todo el país.

Mientras tanto, la tendencia está haciendo sonar las alarmas entre los investigadores de salud pública que temen que, al igual que con las vacunas, el fluoruro pueda haberse convertido en víctima de su propio éxito.

Los CDC sostienen que la fluoración del agua comunitaria no sólo es segura y eficaz, sino que también produce importantes ahorros en los costos de tratamientos dentales. Los funcionarios de salud pública dicen que eliminar el fluoruro podría ser particularmente perjudicial para las familias de bajos ingresos, para quienes el agua potable puede ser la única fuente de atención dental preventiva.

“Si tienes que salir y recibir atención por tu cuenta, es un juego completamente diferente”, dijo Myron Allukian Jr., dentista y ex presidente de la Asociación Americana de Salud Pública. Millones de personas han vivido con agua fluorada durante años, “y no hemos tenido problemas de salud importantes”, afirmó. “Es mucho más fácil prevenir una enfermedad que tratarla”.

Según el grupo anti-fluoruro Fluoride Action Network, desde 2010, más de 240 comunidades en todo el mundo han eliminado el fluoruro de su agua potable o han decidido no agregarlo.

Sólo hay que mirar al condado de Union para ver cuán intensas pueden ser las discusiones. Generalmente cuando los comisionados se reúnen en el primer piso del Centro de Gobierno en el centro de Monroe, la mayoría de los asientos están vacíos. Pero las sesiones sobre la prohibición del fluoruro en los suministros públicos de agua estuvieron colmadas de gente, y los residentes que se inscribieron para hablar estaban divididos.

Una persona que habló el 5 de febrero comparó la fluoración del agua con un cinturón de seguridad. No “previene el accidente automovilístico, pero limita el daño causado”, dijo. Otro argumentó que no hay pruebas de que el fluoruro sea seguro o eficaz. “Es un hito potencial significativo para revertir más de 60 años de envenenamiento del público”, dijo, utilizando una afirmación no probada que a menudo utilizan los opositores a la fluoración.

Los opositores al fluoruro afirman que el mineral es responsable de todo, desde el acné hasta la presión arterial alta, desde los problemas de tiroides hasta el cáncer de huesos.

Los Institutos Nacionales de Salud (NIH) reconocen que, cuando se ingiere en cantidades extremadamente grandes, el fluoruro de los productos dentales o suplementos dietéticos puede causar náuseas, vómitos, dolor abdominal, diarrea, dolor de huesos e incluso la muerte en casos extremadamente raros.

Los bebés y niños que reciben demasiado fluoruro pueden sufrir decoloración o pequeñas lesiones en los dientes. En los adultos, el consumo excesivo de fluoruro durante períodos prolongados puede provocar fluorosis esquelética, una afección muy rara que causa dolor y rigidez en las articulaciones, huesos débiles, pérdida de masa muscular y problemas nerviosos.

Sin embargo, la dosis recomendada en el agua potable siempre ha sido pequeña. En 2015, el Departamento de Salud y Servicios Humanos (HHS) redujo la concentración óptima de fluoruro de 1,2 miligramos por litro a 0,7 mg/L.

Juneau, en Alaska, votó a favor de eliminar el fluoruro de su agua potable en 2007. Un estudio publicado en la revista BMC Oral Health en 2018 comparó los registros dentales de niños y adolescentes que recibieron atención dental por caries cuatro años antes y cinco años después que la ciudad dejara de agregar fluoruro al agua. El estudio encontró que los procedimientos relacionados con las caries y los costos de tratamiento fueron significativamente más altos en el último grupo.

Portland, en Oregon, es la ciudad más grande del país que se ha negado sistemáticamente a agregar fluoruro a su agua potable. Los votantes han rechazado repetidamente las medidas para agregarlo, primero en 1956 y la última vez en 2013.

A pesar de la fuerte recomendación de los médicos y dentistas locales, los votantes de Wichita, Kansas, han rechazado agregar fluoruro al agua varias veces, la más reciente en 2012.

El Distrito Municipal de Servicios Públicos de Brushy Creek en el condado de Williamson, en Texas, estuvo agregando fluoruro a su sistema de agua desde 2007, pero puso fin a esta práctica en diciembre pasado.

En 2016, los comisionados del condado de Collier, en Florida, optaron por no eliminar el fluoruro del sistema de agua. Pero revocaron por unanimidad esa decisión luego de una Declaración de Derechos de Libertad de Salud de 2023 en respuesta a covid-19 que emitió el condado a través de una ordenanza, “para salvaguardar los derechos y libertades de atención médica de los residentes del condado de Collier”.

La Autoridad del Agua de State College Borough, en Pennsylvania, dejó de agregar fluoruro al agua de sus 75,000 clientes en marzo de 2023. Los funcionarios citaron razones que habitualmente usan los activistas anti-fluoruro: la posible contaminación ambiental, preocupaciones sobre la libertad médica y posibles efectos adversos para la salud.

Un estudio publicado en JAMA Pediatrics en 2019, realizado en seis ciudades canadienses, asoció la exposición al fluoruro durante el embarazo con puntuaciones de coeficiente intelectual más bajas en los niños. Pero el estudio se basó en informes propios y ha sido criticado por sus aparentes deficiencias metodológicas.

En 2016, varios grupos de defensa del consumidor, incluidos Fluoride Action Network, Food & Water Watch y Moms Against Fluoridation, solicitaron a la EPA que pusiera fin a la fluoración del agua en virtud de la Ley de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas, alegando que importantes investigaciones demostraban que el fluoruro era neurotóxico en las dosis usadas actualmente. El mismo grupo presentó una demanda federal contra la EPA al año siguiente, después que la agencia denegara la petición.

Durante un juicio de 10 días en San Francisco, que concluyó a mediados de febrero, las dos partes debatieron los riesgos y las áreas de incertidumbre. Si el juez federal de distrito Edward Chen determina que la fluoración del agua presenta un “riesgo irrazonable” para la salud humana, la EPA se verá obligada a crear una norma que regule o prohíba la fluoración del agua en Estados Unidos. Se espera una decisión pronto.

Por el momento, las decisiones sobre la fluoración de los sistemas de agua comunitarios todavía se toman principalmente a nivel local, lo que Barrett espera que cambie.

“De todas las cosas, lo que más quieren es que nuestros dientes estén sanos cuando faltan las necesidades básicas de vivienda y alimentación”, expresó.

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


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Casi 1 de cada 4 adultos desafiliados de Medicaid siguen sin seguro, indica encuesta

Kaiser Health News:States - April 15, 2024

Casi una cuarta parte de los adultos que fueron dados de baja de Medicaid el año pasado dicen que ahora no tienen seguro, según una encuesta que detalla cómo decenas de millones de estadounidenses lucharon por conservar la cobertura del gobierno para personas de bajos ingresos.

Las protecciones que tuvo el programa durante la pandemia, que impedían que se expulsaran beneficiarios, expiraron la primavera pasada.

La primera encuesta nacional sobre estas desafiliaciones de Medicaid halló que casi la mitad de las personas que perdieron la cobertura volvieron a inscribirse semanas o meses después, lo que sugiere que, en primer lugar, nunca debieron ser expulsadas.

Mientras que el 23% informó no tener seguro, un 28% adicional encontró otra cobertura: a través de un empleador, Medicare, el mercado de seguros de la Ley de Cuidado de Salud a Bajo Precio (ACA) o en programas para miembros de las Fuerzas Armadas, informó la encuesta de KFF.

“El 23% es una cifra sorprendente, especialmente si se piensa en la cantidad de personas que perdieron la cobertura de Medicaid”, dijo Chima Ndumele, profesora asociada de políticas de salud en la Escuela de Salud Pública de la Universidad de Yale.

Quedarse sin seguro, incluso por un período corto de tiempo, puede llevar a las personas a retrasar la búsqueda de atención médica, y exponerlas a riesgos financieros.

Siete de cada 10 adultos desafiliados dijeron que se quedaron sin seguro al menos temporalmente cuando perdieron su cobertura de Medicaid.

Adrienne Hamar, de 49 años, de Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, dijo que tuvo dificultades para inscribirse en un plan de ACA este invierno después que el estado le informara que ella y sus dos hijos ya no calificaban para Medicaid. Estaban inscritos desde 2020. Dijo que las líneas telefónicas estaban siempre ocupadas en el mercado estatal y que no podía completar el proceso en línea.

Hamar, que trabaja como asistente de salud a domicilio, y sus hijos, estuvieron sin seguro durante marzo. Pero desde el 1 de abril, están inscritos en un plan del mercado que, con la ayuda de subsidios gubernamentales, cuesta $50 al mes para la familia.

“Me sentí muy aliviada”, dijo. Hamar dijo que, por esta situación, su hija de 23 años demoró en hacerse un chequeo dental.

Las luchas de Hamar eran comunes, según la encuesta.

De los adultos inscritos en Medicaid antes de la cancelación, alrededor del 35% que intentó renovar su cobertura describió el proceso como difícil, y cerca del 48% dijo que era al menos algo estresante.

Alrededor del 56% de las personas dadas de baja dicen que omitieron o retrasaron atención médica o buscar una receta mientras intentaban renovar su cobertura de Medicaid.

“Es probable que el estatus actual del seguro de las personas esté cambiando, y esperaríamos que al menos algunas de las que dicen que actualmente no tienen seguro se vuelvan a inscribir en Medicaid (muchos dijeron que todavía lo están intentando) o se inscriban en otra cobertura en poco tiempo”, dijo Jennifer Tolbert, coautora del informe de KFF y directora del Programa Estatal de Datos y Reforma de Salud de la fundación.

La encuesta no incluyó a niños, y los investigadores de KFF dijeron que, por lo tanto, sus hallazgos no podían extrapolarse para determinar cómo la reducción de Medicaid ha afectado la tasa general de personas sin seguro en el país, que alcanzó un mínimo histórico del 7,7% a principios de 2023. Casi la mitad de los afiliados a Medicaid y al Programa de Seguro Médico Infantil (CHIP) son niños.

El proceso de desafiliación, durante el cual los estados están reevaluando la elegibilidad para Medicaid entre millones de estadounidenses que se inscribieron antes o durante la pandemia —y eliminando a aquellos que ya no califican o no completaron el proceso de renovación— no se completará hasta finales de este año.

La inscripción en Medicaid y CHIP creció a un récord de casi 94,5 millones en abril del año pasado, tres años después que el gobierno federal prohibiera a los estados eliminar a las personas de sus listas durante la emergencia de salud pública de covid-19.

A nivel nacional, los estados cancelaron la inscripción e Medicaid de alrededor de 20 millones de personas el año pasado, la mayoría por razones de procedimiento, como no presentar la documentación requerida. Se espera que ese número aumente, ya que los estados tienen algunos meses más para redeterminar la elegibilidad de los inscritos.

Entre los adultos que tenían Medicaid antes del inicio de las desafiliaciones, el 83% retuvo su cobertura o se volvió a inscribir, mientras que el 8% encontró otro seguro y el 8% no tenía seguro.

La proporción que quedó sin seguro fue mayor en los estados que no han ampliado Medicaid bajo ACA (17%) comparado con los estados que sí lo han hecho (6%). Cuarenta estados han ampliado Medicaid para cubrir a todas las personas con ingresos inferiores al 138% de la tasa federal de pobreza, o $31,200 para una familia de cuatro en 2024.

La encuesta de KFF encontró que casi uno de cada 3 adultos a los que se les canceló el seguro descubrió que ya no tenían Medicaid recién cuando buscaron atención médica, como ir a un médico o a una farmacia.

Indira Navas, de Miami, descubrió que a su hijo Andrés, de 6 años, se le había dado de baja del programa de Medicaid de Florida cuando lo llevó a una cita con el médico en marzo. Había programado esa cita con meses de anticipación y está frustrada porque el niño sigue sin seguro y se interrumpió su terapia para la ansiedad y la hiperactividad.

Navas dijo que el estado no pudo explicar por qué su hija Camila, de 12, seguía cubierta por Medicaid a pesar de que los dos niños viven en el mismo hogar que sus padres.

“No tiene sentido que cubran a uno de mis hijos y al otro no”, dijo.

Kate McEvoy, directora ejecutiva de la Asociación Nacional de Directores de Medicaid, dijo que el gran volumen, de millones de personas, a las que se está analizando para determinar su elegibilidad ha abrumado a algunos centros de llamadas estatales que intentan apoyar a los afiliados.

Dijo que los estados han probado muchas formas de comunicarse con los inscritos, incluso a través de campañas de divulgación pública, mensajes de texto, correo electrónico y aplicaciones. “Hasta el momento en que su cobertura está en juego, es difícil penetrar en las vidas ocupadas de las personas”, dijo.

La encuesta de KFF, de 1,227 adultos que tenían cobertura de Medicaid a principios de 2023 antes del inicio del proceso de desafiliación, el 1 de abril de 2023, se realizó entre el 15 de febrero y el 11 de marzo de 2024. El margen de error de muestreo fue de más o menos 4 puntos porcentuales.

El corresponsal de KFF Health News, Daniel Chang, colaboró con este artículo.

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.


This story can be republished for free (details).