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Health-insurance companies ask state for rate increases averaging 17 percent; failure of non-profit insurer blamed

Health insurers want rate increases averaging 22.3 percent in 2017 for individual policies in Kentucky. Counting small-group plans, the overall increase would be 17 percent, "continuing a national trend of hefty hikes as insurers adapt to a market reshaped by President Barack Obama's signature health care law," Adam Beam reports for The Associated Press.

"But the rate increases, if approved by state regulators, do not guarantee double-digit increases in the monthly premiums people have to pay," Beam notes. "The base rate is one of many factors companies use to determine how much someone pays in a monthly premium. Other factors include age, where a person lives and whether the person smokes."

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/politics-government/article79766917.html#storylink=cpy

The average requested increases for individual policies range from 7.6 percent for Aetna Health Inc. to 33.7 percent for Louisville-based Humana Inc., which said recently that it was losing money on Obamacare plans and is working on a merger with Aetna (to which Missouri objected this week). Baptist Health Plan wants 26.68 percent more, Anthem Health Plans 22.9 percent, and CareSource 20.55 percent, all on average.

“The Department of Insurance will fully investigate all proposed rate increase requests to make sure they are warranted,” Commissioner Brian Maynard said in a release. “Insurance rate increases are not specific to Kentucky; states across the nation are dealing with this issue.”

The department said some of the rate increases "appear to be attributed to the failure of the Kentucky Health Cooperative Inc.," a non-profit that was created under the reform law to provide more competition but then was not fully funded by Congress.

"The co-op went bankrupt and was placed into liquidation earlier this year, leaving other insurance companies to cover the more than 51,000 former co-op customers," the department noted. "Many of those customers were high-risk, and Kentucky’s remaining insurers appear to project that those high-risk customers will affect the risk pool." Anthem spokesman Mark Robinson told AP that the expectation of insuring co-op customers was responsible for its rate request.

UnitedHealth Group Inc. said recently that it would stop selling exchange policies in Kentucky, leaving many counties with only one insurer on the exchange. The only company that seeks to sell individual policies statewide is Anthem. It will be the only choice on the exchange in 54 counties.

However, Indianapolis-based Golden Rule Insurance Co., a United subsidiary, will sell "in all counties, off the exchange," the department said. Golden Rule, which still won't sell exchange policies, is seeking a rate increase of 65 percent.

Anthem, Aetna and Baptist will also offer non-exchange policies. Aetna plans to sell in only 10 counties: Jefferson, Fayette, Kenton, Campbell, Boone, Oldham, Trimble, Henry, Owen and Madison. Baptist will sell in 38 counties off the exchange and 20 on the exchange. Humana will sell on the exchange in nine counties (Bourbon, Bullitt, Clark, Fayette, Jefferson, Jessamine, Oldham, Scott and Woodford) and off the exchange in nine (Boone, Bullitt, Campbell, Gallatin, Grant, Jefferson, Kenton, Oldham and Pendleton). CareSource will sell in 61 counties, all on the exchange.

Consumers in Fayette, Jefferson and Oldham counties will have five insurers to choose from on the exchange. Jessamine, Woodford, Bullitt, Henry, Madison and Trimble counties will have four. Thirteen counties will have three choices, and 44 will have two. An Excel spreadsheet listing the policies for each county is available at www.uky.edu/comminfostudies/irjci/Kyhealthinsbycounty2017.xlsx.

The filings are online at insurance.ky.gov/ratefil/default.aspx. Rates must be approved within 60 days of each filing, or no later than July 11.

The administration of Gov. Matt Bevin is dismantling the Kynect health-insurance exchange and will use the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, as a portal for enrollment in exchange policies.

Posted by Al Cross 

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

Date: 05-26-2016

State strengthens response efforts to fight the bite as summer draws near

FRANKFORT – With the Memorial Day holiday signaling the start of summer and vacation season for Kentuckians, the Kentucky Department for Public Health has strengthened its response efforts to Fight the Bite against Zika virus to include the ability to now test for Zika virus at its public health laboratory in Frankfort, in addition to urging people to follow mosquito precautions and avoid traveling to Zika-affected areas.

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized emergency use of two laboratory tests developed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on individuals meeting CDC Zika virus clinical criteria.

These two tests, a Zika IgM antibody capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (MAC-ELISA) and a trioplex real-time PCR (RT-PCR) assay, can only be performed by qualified laboratories designated by CDC. The Kentucky Department for Public Health, Division of Laboratory Services (DLS), has performed this testing since May 2. Due to the recent emergence of data that demonstrates persistence of viral nucleic acid in urine, DLS will now accept urine specimens alongside patient-matched serum specimens for RT-PCR testing within 14 days of symptom onset. Requests for Zika testing should be coordinated with an individual’s healthcare provider in collaboration with the Kentucky Department for Public Health, according to a state news release.

DPH officials continue to urge Kentuckians, particularly pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant, to avoid traveling to areas of the world with active Zika transmission.

“We strongly advise that anyone - especially pregnant women - planning to travel to countries where Zika virus is circulating take steps to protect themselves. This includes being knowledgeable about where the virus is spreading, consulting with a healthcare provider, and following public health recommendations to avoid mosquito bites,” Dr. Ardis Hoven, infectious disease specialist for DPH, said in the news release.

The CDC recommends that pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant take the following precautions:

Pregnant women should not travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women should not travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare professional first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.

Women trying to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare professional before traveling to Zika-affected areas and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.

Based on reports of possible Zika transmission through sexual contact, CDC recommends pregnant women avoid sexual contact with men who have recently returned from areas with Zika transmission. CDC recommends men who have traveled to a Zika-affected area and developed symptoms consistent with Zika during travel or two weeks after travel to use condoms for six months after symptoms begin or to abstain from sex for 6 months. CDC recommends men who have traveled to a Zika-affected area and did not develop any symptoms to use condoms for at least 8 weeks after departure from Zika-affected areas or abstain from sex for 8 weeks.

Recent evidence reveals that Zika virus can cause microcephaly and other fetal birth defects in infants born to women who are infected during pregnancy. Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is smaller than normal. Microcephaly can be found alone or in conjunction with other birth defects.

International travelers to areas with active Zika transmission who develop fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis within two weeks of return to Kentucky should consult with their medical provider.

A full list of affected countries/regions can be found online, http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html.

Kentuckians planning international travel are particularly recommended to consult the CDC’s Travelers’ Health Website, http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/, for country-specific health information for travelers. A Weblink about Zika Travel Information, http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/zika-travel-information, is found on that site.

Zika has been identified by the World Health Organization as an international public health threat. There are no known cases of Zika transmission occurring in the state of Kentucky – or any part of the United States – at this time. Zika virus is not known to be circulating in the mosquito population in Kentucky at this time.

State officials remind residents to follow the 3 D’s for mosquito bite prevention: Dress – Wear light colored long sleeve shirts and long pants; Drain – Eliminate all standing water where mosquitoes breed such as bird baths, tires, buckets and gutters; and Defend – Use an EPA-approved insect repellent at all times for outdoor activities.

To date, six confirmed cases of Zika virus have been reported in Kentuckians who contracted the illness while traveling to other countries.

For further information visit the DPH website http://healthalerts.ky.gov/zika or the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/zika. Be sure to follow KYHealthAlerts on Twitter and DPH’s Zika mascot, Marty Mosquito, on Instagram, @martymosquito.

Kentucky Health News

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

Ky. law says public pools must be inspected by Health Dept. "once or twice" per season

Thousands of public pools, hot tubs and water playgrounds are forced to close every year for serious health and safety violations, according to a new study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kentucky requires local health departments to conduct two full inspections of each public swimming pool during the operating season, once every six months for its continuous-operation indoor facilities, and monthly water chemistry inspections, according to the state Department for Public Health.

"The local health department environmentalists are the ones who do these inspections and monitors, so the records for these inspections are kept with each local health department, Beth Fisher, spokesperson for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in an e-mail.

But you might want to do your own inspection if you go on vacation out of state, because that's not the case everywhere.

"Almost one third of local health departments do not regulate, inspect, or license public pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds,” Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC's Healthy Swimming Program, said in a news release. “We should all check for inspection results online or on site before using public pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds and do our own inspection before getting into the water.”

And even if states are checking their pools, that doesn't mean they are always safe.

A 2013 CDC study of inspection data from the five large states containing 40 percent of the nation's public aquatic venues found that almost 80 percent of them had at least one violation. It found that one in eight inspections resulted in immediate closure because of serious health and safety violations and that one in five kiddie or wading pools were closed due to violations. Most of the violations were related to improper pH (15 percent), lack of proper safety equipment (13 percent) and inadequate disinfectant levels (12 percent).

"Young children who are still learning their toileting skills are more likely to contaminate the water. They're more likely to swallow the water. Both of which can lead to outbreaks of diarrheal illness," Michael Beach, the CDC's associate director for healthy water, told Dennis Thompson at HealthDay News. He said pH levels are "critical because it determines how effective the disinfectant is killing germs."

The CDC recommends that parents change their infants' diapers often and in the bathroom, not poolside, to take children to the bathroom every hour, and to teach children to spit out any pool water they get in their mouth.

Beach said most contamination of public pools and hot tubs are the result of people swimming while suffering from diarrhea. He said adults should not swim while recovering from diarrhea, and if they do, should shower before getting in the water.

The CDC recommends individuals do a self-inspection of all public pools before getting in them and offers this checklist that identifies some of the most common swimming pool health and safety problems:


* Use a test strip (available at most superstores or pool-supply stores) to determine if the pH and free chlorine or bromine concentration are correct.
* Make sure the drain at the bottom of the deep end is visible.
* Check that drain covers appear to be secured and in good repair.
* Confirm that a lifeguard is on duty at public venues. If not, check whether safety equipment like a rescue ring with rope or pole is available.
* If you find problems, do not get into the water and tell the person in charge so the problems can be fixed, says the release.

Posted by Melissa Patrick at 9:44 PM

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

GOP proposal could affect more than 350 Ky. schools

By Danielle Ray
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky school officials are concerned about a proposal by Republicans in the U.S. House that would make it harder for schools to offer free meals to all students using federal money.

The House is considering changes to the 2010 Hunger-Free Kids Act, now in its second year, which allows schools who serve a high-poverty population to offer free meals to every student.

Instead of collecting individual applications for free or reduced-price meals, the Community Eligibility Provision uses data that illustrates how many students in a given school may be "food-vulnerable": how many students live in households that receive government assistance, live in foster care, are homeless, and other similar criteria.

Under current CEP rules, schools with greater than 40 percent of students who qualify as food-vulnerable are eligible to offer free meals to all students. A bill approved May 18 by the House Education and Workforce Committee would raise the threshold to 60 percent, forcing schools between 40 and 59 percent range off the program.

"Proponents of community eligibility say it spares schools from paperwork and administrative burdens, and that it allows low-income children to eat free meals without the stigma or red tape of particpation in the free meal program, which is often a barrier for participation," Evie Blad reports for Education Week. "But Republicans on the committee said the provision is wasteful, potentially allowing children from higher-income families access to free meals."

The change could affect more than 350 Kentucky schools. Kentucky has 804 schools eligible to offer free meals under current CEP rules, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Under the proposed bill, only 441 would qualify, according to the center.

More than 10,000 students at 17 public schools in Lexington alone would be affected, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. More than 190,000 students statewide could be affected, the Herald-Leader said.

Nick Brake, superintendent of Owensboro schools, told Keith Lawrence of The Messenger-Inquirer that he is hopeful that his district will be spared cuts.

"I have been working with Congressman (Brett) Guthrie’s office on this issue," Brake said. "We are still looking at the overall numbers, but our district average is 63 percent, so it looks favorable that we will be able to continue to provide the benefit of this vital program in the future."

Muhlenberg County Supt. Randy McCarty told Lawrence he thought his district would still qualify. "Once a district goes CEP, it stays in place for four years," he said.

Hopkins County, which recently expanded its use of free meals to all public schools, faces uncertainty if the changes are passed.

"I have no idea if school districts will be grandfathered in, or how Congress will write everything, but I am afraid that if we don't jump on this now, we may not get this opportunity again," Michael Dodridge, food services director of Hopkins County schools, told Laura Buchanan of The Messenger in Madisonville. "I would hate to pass this up."

The proposed CEP changes are part of House Resolution 5003, the child nutrition reauthorization bill introduced by Indiana Republican Rep. Todd Rokita. For more information on the proposed changes, click 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 Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

 

 

Congratulations to Diane Martin, Lab Director for 40 years of service at TRMC!!!

Huge milestone!!! — CEO Greg Kiser