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APRIL 27, 2015

Book chronicles physicians in Lawrence County history since 1792

LOUISA, Ky -- Veteran newspaper reporter and columnist George Wolford, now semi-retired has completed a book he has written about the history of medicine in Lawrence County, specifically physicians.

The 171 page hard bound book is available for $20 at four Louisa locations. Only 250 have been printed. 

You can purchase 'Lawrence County Doctors' at the Lawrence County Library, the TRMC gift shop, Louisa Medical Clinic and Three Rivers Medical Clinic while supplies last.

Any profits from the sale of the book will be used to cover publishing costs and if there is any money left, a scholarship for a LCHS student will be awarded.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22, 2015

When federal health reform was introduced last year in Eastern Kentucky—a largely Republican area that has for years relied on the coal industry—Central Appalachia residents were skeptical of President Obama's health care system.

The jury is still out whether or not locals are calling the plan a success, Laura Ungar and Chris Kenning report for USA Today. Obamacare "has given many of the poor and sick a key to long-neglected health care. It's also brought skepticism and fear, and some business owners argue it's stunting their growth in a region that can't afford another economic blow."

On the plus side, "scores of newly insured residents, mostly covered by Medicaid, have sought care in hospitals, mental health centers and drug treatment facilities," Ungar and Kenning write. In places like Floyd County—which ranks second to last in the state's health rankings because of high rates of smoking, cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease—the uninsured rate of residents under 65 dropped from 19 percent to 10 percent by the end of 2014. (Family Search map: Floyd County)

"Overall, 5,403 Floyd County residents have enrolled in Medicaid under the ACA, while only 620 have bought private health plans on the state's 'kynect' exchange," Ungar and Kenning write. "Data from a recent state examination of the Medicaid expansion found it had brought $15.5 million in Medicaid payments to Floyd County in 2014, including $5.9 million to hospitals."

But many Floyd County residents echo the same complaints as in other parts of the state, "such as the tax penalty people must pay if they don't have insurance and the upcoming requirement that businesses with more than 50 full-time employees provide affordable insurance or face a penalty," Ungar and Kenning write. "Hospitals report being squeezed financially. One insurance agent says the system remains difficult to navigate. Many who don't qualify for Medicaid or a sizable subsidy—and have been largely left out of the health care system—say their insurance has gotten more difficult to afford."

One insurance agent said "some residents who purchased private plans on the state exchange in 2014 found the monthly premiums rose sharply in 2015, causing some to drop out or reduce coverage," Ungar and Kenning write. Other residents who are waiting for their employers to provide health insurance could be waiting a long time.

"Archie Everage, who owns a chain of fast-food sandwich shops in Floyd and nearby counties that employ more than 80 full- and part-time workers, said he plans to pay a fine of $2,000 per full-time employee rather than provide insurance as the ACA requires," Ungar and Kenning write. "Paul Reffett, owner of ValueMed pharmacy, said the ACA has meant more work but less profits," with more customers getting prescriptions but paying with Medicaid instead of cash, "meaning low reimbursements instead of full payments."

Hospitals also say that with Medicaid handled by managed-care companies, reimbursements are slow in coming, Ungar and Kenning write. And more Medicaid patients means more slow payments. (Read more)

Written by Tim Mandell

Posted at 4/22/2015 02:14:00 PM

04-20-2015

Lemtrada gained FDA approval in November 2014, and Thomas began treatments March 2

Donnie Thomas said a new multiple sclerosis drug gives him hope for the future with his family. Picture from left are Brooklyn Thomas, Melissa Thomas, Donnie Thomas and Hannah Thomas.

Donnie Thomas said he remembers the first time he experienced multiple sclerosis symptoms like it was yesterday.

“I was 30,” he said. “I’d been to the driving-range over the weekend and when I came back the following week my hand was numb, it was just kind of a funny feeling.”

Thomas, a Winchester native, visited his family doctor and was prescribed two-weeks worth of Celebrex, an anti-inflammatory drug.

“The feeling didn’t go away,” he said. “So I went back and (my doctor) told me there may be something else going on.”

His doctor referred him to a neurologist who performed brain scans and MRIs that revealed Thomas had lesions on his brain.

A spinal tap confirmed Thomas has relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, the most common type of the autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack the insulating membranes (myelin) that coat nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

MS can cause numbness, weakness, vision trouble, balance problems and other symptoms, depending on which parts of the central nervous system are affected.

RRMS patients experience attacks that cause new or worsening symptoms, which are followed by remission periods where the disease does not progress.

For Thomas, who is now 45, the numbness was the only indication of the disease, and until 2010, he remained active, playing softball, tennis and golf and working full-time with nearly perfect attendance at Catalent Pharma Solutions, where he has worked for 22 years.

“Since 2010, I’ve slowed down some,” he said. “My walking has been affected.”

Despite taking a variety of medications, the MS affected Thomas’ right leg, making it difficult for him to walk and stand. He used a cane and a power scooter when it was necessary, especially at work. By the end of 2014, his condition worsened and walking became even more difficult.

For nine years, Thomas took an injectable drug called Avonex and has tried nearly every oral medication for MS.

“None of it seemed to work,” he said.

Around three years ago, Thomas heard about an innovative drug that could essentially stop MS in its tracks.

“My neurologist and I had been talking about this drug for a couple of years,” he said. “I first learned about it when it was just in the clinical trials.”

Thomas’ neurologist, Cary Twymann of St. Joseph Neurology Associates, was involved in the clinical trials of Lemtrada, a disease-modifying therapy for people with relapsing forms of MS.

Because Thomas hadn’t experienced success with other MS treatments, Twymann targeted Lemtrada for Thomas as soon as it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“I didn’t have any positive results from other medications I was on,” Thomas said. “The Avonex was keeping me stable, but the side effects pretty much wiped me out a couple of days a week. I didn’t tolerate the oral medications as far as the side-effects, either. They upset my stomach and just made me feel terrible.”

Lemtrada gained FDA approval in November 2014, and Thomas began treatments March 2.

Lemtrada was originally used to treat B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and is designed to target immune cells.

Thomas said the drug works by attacking a cell-surface protein called CD52, which is found on T and B cells. In the process of “blowing up” the cells, it attacks cells thought to cause MS, Thomas said.

“What the hope is that since my body has been under attack from the MS for so many years, when the new T cells and B cells come back, they won’t be affected by the MS, and they will slowly start to heal my body, and my body will heal itself over time,” he said.

Thomas is the first MS patient in Kentucky to receive the drug, and one of the first 100 people in the United States to use Lemtrada, which he said has the potential to change the course of the rest of his life.

Thomas received intravenous infusions of Lemtrada on an outpatient-basis for five consecutive days, and will receive treatments again for three consecutive days in February 2016.

If all goes as planned, the drug will prevent Thomas’ MS from progressing.

His biggest concern was potential side effects that range from things like thyroid conditions or bleeding disorders to less-serious side effects like rashes, headaches, vomiting, fungal infections and joint pain.

Thomas’ immune system has been compromised, so he also runs the risk of contracting other illnesses more easily. He’ll also need monthly blood work for the next five years to monitor his thyroid levels and cell counts.

“Those are risks I was willing to take,” he said. “My nurse sat down with Melissa and me for several hours and told us about the possible side effects. But, amazingly, I haven’t had any.”

Thomas belongs to a Facebook group for other Lemtrada patients, and said their results have been similar.

“I haven’t read about one bad result,” he said. “Anybody that I’ve seen on the Lemtrada page, it’s been nothing but positive results. That’s why they call it a game-changer.”

Thomas said he was told not to expect any results until 4-6 months after his first treatment, but he has already experienced relief thanks to the drug.

“When I went to the hospital to get my first treatment, I had to be taken in by a wheelchair,” he said. “I had been off work or working from home for three to four weeks before I had my first treatment. I went in in a wheelchair on Monday and by my last treatment on Friday, I was able to walk out of the hospital by myself.”

Thomas’ wife of 22 years, Melissa, said she can see improvements as well.

By Whitney Leggett
The Winchester Sun

 

APRIL 19, 2015

Kentucky re-bidding Medicaid managed care contracts to address complaints of patients, advocates and health-care providers

 

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

State officials are re-bidding Medicaid managed-care contracts that cover more than 1.1 million Kentuckians. The news came as a delight and surprise to many health-care providers and patient advocates.

“I was both stunned and thrilled by the announcement. I did not know it was coming,” Sheila Schuster, a Louisville mental-health advocate, told Tom Loftus of The Courier-Journal. “A number of the changes that they say will be part of the new contracts are things those of us in the behavioral health community have brought up time and time again.”

Kentucky changed to Medicaid managed care from a traditional fee-for-service model in 2011 to fill a projected budget overrun of $166 million. Health Secretary Audrey Haynes said in a news release that doing so has "saved Kentucky taxpayers more than $1.3 billion in state and federal funds" and had also improved the delivery of health care to the Medicaid population.

"However, after several years of experience, we determined it was time to retool, rebid and strengthen the contracts to appropriately address concerns expressed by advocates and healthcare providers," Haynes said.

The transition to managed care has been met with consistent complaints from both patients and providers, despite efforts of the cabinet to work through the issues and keep the channels of communication open between providers, the cabinet and the managed-care organizations.

Two passionately debated bills in the recent legislative session challenged some practices of the current MCOs: one seeking an appeals process for denial of payments and the other removing a cap of "triage fees" for emergency-room services that MCOs later deem not to be emergencies.

Both issues have been challenging to the financial health of rural hospitals. State Auditor Adam Edelen addressed many such issues in a recent report on the financial health of rural hospitals.

“We are pleased to see the cabinet taking steps to improve and strengthen managed care contracts, many of which we recommended in our recent report on the financial strength of rural hospitals,”Edelen told Insider Louisville.

Some requirements for the new contracts include: required statewide coverage; standardized rules among the MCOs; improved administrative processes; increased oversight of claim denials; continued expansion of behavioral health services; incentives for MCOs to work with Medicaid patients to decrease emergency-room use and improve their health; and increased penalties to assure contract compliance. Click here for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services' complete Request for Proposal.

“I’d like to say that they heard the voice of the people,” Schuster told Insider Louisville.“If you look at the Medicaid Advisory Council, those meeting are every two months and it’s the same litany of complaints and concerns every darned time with no response. The only thing I can think of is it’s a gesture by this outgoing administration to get things right so that regardless of who comes in next year, there are strong contracts in place. I applaud them for it, and I’m stunned.”

The current contracts with Anthem, Aetna's Coventry Cares, Humana's CareSource , Passport and Wellcare expire on June 30, 2015 and proposals for the new contracts are due by May 5. The statewide contracts will be awarded to multiple MCOs for a one-year period with four, one-year renewal option, according to the news release.

Posted by Melissa Patrick 

APRIL 6, 2015

 

Kentucky Health News

Events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism about health care and health in Kentucky

 

Kentucky is the place to be for mood-altering drugs. The state ranked third in aGallup Organization study that asked 450 adults in each state how often they use drugs and medications to affect their mood or relax them, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. West Virginia led, with 28.1 percent of respondents saying they use mood-altering drugs every day, Rhode Island was second at 25.9 percent, but Kentucky was not far behind at 24.5 percent. 

Nationally, 18.9 percent of respondents said they take drugs almost every day, while 62.2 percent said they never do, 13.1 percent said they rarely do and 5 percent said they sometimes do.

The way the question was worded allows for errors, Ingraham writes. The question asked about drugs and medications, but didn't specify which ones, and didn't mention alcohol or tobacco. That left interpretation of the question up to individual respondents.

A recent National Survey of Drug Use and Health said that at least 71 percent of American adults drank in the past year, and 56 percent drank in the past month, which if true, could raise the rates in most states, if respondents were to consider alcohol a mood-altering drug. (Read more(To view this interactive Post mapclick here)

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.