Insurance Premiums Will Be Up Next Year

TrudyLieberman-Photo•September 28, 2016•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

Recently I got a note from a reader of these columns who lives in Warren, Ohio. He had seen conflicting reports about next year’s insurance premiums. The man was skeptical of an article he had read, which reported that insurance premiums are cheaper than they were in 2010, and that the Affordable Care Act will cost $2.6 trillion less than estimated. Somehow that didn’t compute with what he had read about premiums going up.

He was right to be skeptical, and his comments are important because they zoom right in on the spin that’s been circulated by various interest groups that want to portray Obamacare’s upcoming fourth-year enrollment season as a gloom-and-doom disaster in the making or the federal government’s not-to-worry scenario insisting health insurance really is affordable.

There’s been much media speculation about high premium rates, and for the most part, the press has favored the not-to-worry scenario. Media have passed that message along with comments such as this from Anne Filipic, the head of Enroll America, a group that signs up people for Obamacare, who argued high premiums are a predictable course correction and a “one-time resetting.” Or this from Kathryn Martin, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who told reporters, “Headline rate increases do not reflect what consumers actually pay. The vast majority would continue to have affordable options.”  Read More

Understanding Illinois: Chicago: A tale of two or more cities

Nowlan•September 28, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I took the #20 Chicago CTA bus recently, starting from a canyon of towering office and residential buildings in the central Loop, exuding wealth.

The bus traveled along Madison Street straight west to the depleted Austin neighborhood on the far edge of the city, 60 blocks away but within the long shadow of the Sears Tower, still visible.

I was going to meet my friend Berto Aguayo, a former Latino gang member who went straight, recently graduated from college, probably headed to law school and city politics.

Berto is working for an anti-violence, non-profit group based in the Austin, where violence is part of the routine.

The bus ride was instructive. The prosperous professional class has pushed far west to Western Avenue, 24 blocks west of the Loop. Old brick buildings have been rehabbed into condos, iron balconies newly attached to each unit. Read More

Understanding Illinois: “Nuclear Options” for Political Reform in Illinois

•September 21, 2016•

NowlanBy Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

In the wake of the recent embarrassingly political, 4-3 partisan decision by the Illinois Supreme Court Democratic majority to reject a proposed voter initiative to reduce legislative district gerrymandering, savvy political observer Rich Miller has suggested the “nuclear option” of a voter initiative that would simply abolish the Illinois House altogether!

The idea is not so outlandish as one might think at first blush.

First, such a voter initiative would be constitutional, that is, it would meet the state high court’s wrong-headed requirement that initiatives be both “structural and procedural.”

Second, many democratic governments operate quite nicely with unicameral legislative bodies. Readers probably know that Nebraska has a one-house legislature, which they call the senate. [And that state appears to have avoided the dysfunction for which Illinois has become noted.]

Costa Rica is probably the healthiest democratic society in the Americas south of the U.S., other than maybe Uruguay. When I was that sunny clime some years ago, I visited their unicameral “assembly.” And the 30 states of Mexico also operate with unicameral legislatures. Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: My First in Flight Emergency

Ginther•September 21, 2016•

By Jerry R. Ginther
NP  Columnist

“San Angelo tower this is Cessna 1-2-9-9 uniform,” I spoke into the microphone unsure of what I would say next.

“Good afternoon, 1-2-9-9 uniform,” came the reply from the air traffic controller in the tower.

What had started out as a routine photography flight was about to get more exciting than routine. We had departed Waco, Tex. earlier in the day with three souls on board, my 12-year-old son, my cameraman and myself. I was piloting the single engine Cessna 172, a high wing, four place, aircraft we used for our photography missions.

The first leg of the flight between Waco and Brownwood was uneventful. The only concern I had was the extremely high temperature which was fast approaching the 100-degree mark. It was a hot summer day, and it was going to get hotter. Checking my logbook, I see it was July 24, 1987.

We decided we would land at Brownwood for fuel and refreshment. The refreshment would include a can of soda for my son Warren who occupied the back seat during the flight. That soda would become part of the excitement not long after our departure from Brownwood.  Read More

Understanding Illinois: “Nuclear options” for Political Reform in Illinois

Nowlan•September 14, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

In the wake of the recent embarrassingly political, 4-3 partisan decision by the Illinois Supreme Court Democratic majority to reject a proposed voter initiative to reduce legislative district gerrymandering, savvy political observer Rich Miller has suggested the “nuclear option” of a voter initiative that would simply abolish the Illinois House altogether!

The idea is not so outlandish as one might think at first blush.

First, such a voter initiative would be constitutional, that is, it would meet the state high court’s wrong-headed requirement that initiatives be both “structural and procedural.”

Second, many democratic governments operate quite nicely with unicameral legislative bodies. Readers probably know that Nebraska has a one-house legislature, which they call the senate. [And that state appears to have avoided the dysfunction for which Illinois has become noted.]

Costa Rica is probably the healthiest democratic society in the Americas south of the U.S., other than maybe Uruguay. When I was that sunny clime some years ago, I visited their unicameral “assembly.” And the 30 states of Mexico also operate with unicameral legislatures. Read More

Thinking About Health: Obesity Rates Fall in a Few States but Are Still Far Higher Than in 1990

•September 14, 2016•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

Is the message that the nation is getting too fat beginning to sink in?

The answer is “yes but,” says the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit, non-partisan group that aims to protect the health of communities and make disease prevention a national priority. And a study of healthcare quality and quantity across the nation suggests some reasons why things are not improving uniformly.

Obesity is a disease, and for the last 13 years the Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have monitored obesity rates in the country, focusing on the proportion of a state’s population that is obese. The study designates someone as obese whose body mass index (a measure based on height and weight) is 30 or higher.

This year’s results show that after a decade in which every state’s obese population rose, a few states have finally experienced a decrease.

“We’re seeing the rates plateau albeit at a very high level,” says Richard Hamburg, the interim president of the Trust.  Read More

Depression: Why Do We So Rarely Talk About This?

Nowlan•September 7, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

My friend Beth Smith asked me to write about this. Beth is community health educator for the Henry-Stark County Health Department. She has personal family experience with what I discuss.

I feel a bit self-conscious, but here goes.

I have recently begun traveling to Chicago by Amtrak Monday to Friday, where I go to Rush Medical Center for what will be 30 daily treatments for depression.

The transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) treatments are considered by many psychiatrists a “last resort” therapy for patients who have not responded to medications, talk therapy and other approaches to ameliorating chronic low mood.

The relatively new therapy is FDA-approved and covered by my insurance. I think of the treatment as electro-convulsive shock therapy-lite. In that old treatment, strong electric shocks were administered to the brain to cause a seizure(s) in a patient.

I sit in a chair like that in a dentist’s office, lean back a little and a figure-eight covered coil about the diameter of a baseball is placed against the upper left side of my skull.

The coil zaps me with four electromagnetic pulses per second for 10 seconds, followed by a 20-second breather, then more pulsing, and so on, for 40 minutes. Read More

August: A Wonderful Month for Harvest

KimForColumn•September 7, 2016•

By Kim McDonald
NP Gardening Columnist

August was a wonderful month full of tomatoes, peppers and lots of grapes to harvest.

We spent hours canning and freezing, trying to keep on top of the producing garden. The steamer/juicer, strainer and water bath canner has been a regular in the kitchen this past month, and a couple of the newly tried products that we tested were the grape syrup and grape jam. The aronia was all frozen just because of the lack of time…I’ll get to them later once overtime at works slows down enough to just run at a normal pace.

The roses have been beautiful, and I have tried to keep up with the deadheading so they continue to produce more flowers. The butterfly bushes have attracted butterflies to watch, and the spent flower heads of the coneflowers have attracted small birds. It makes my day to go out and see nature’s bouquet of flowers right there in my own yard. Different flowers, different colors and different textures all mixed to add beauty to the landscape.

The parsley worms finally showed up in August, and we watched all five of them every day until they each disappeared. I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of them once again as they turn into a Black Swallowtail butterfly. Each year as I watch the parsley worms, they remind me when I was a kid catching the monarch caterpillars and putting them in a container to take to school so we could all watch as they went from caterpillar to butterfly.  Read More

Politics and Policy in Illinois: The Black Hole in the Illinois Legislative Process

Nowlan•August 31, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

This is the third in a series of columns on “politics and policy in Illinois.”

Ever since the Athenian assembly of 500 condemned Socrates to death in 399 BCE on trumped up charges, legislating has been a messy affair.

The Illinois General Assembly is another legislative body with a checkered past.

In the late 1800s and into the 1900s, there was an end-of-session “jackpot” from which the powerful interests awarded payments to lawmakers on the basis of how well they had supported the interests during the session just ended.

In 1909, 40 Democratic state legislators received bribes of $2,500 each (when a new Model T cost $750) to cross party lines to send Republican William Lorimer to the U.S. Senate, where he was subsequently expelled because of the wholesale bribery.

By the 1960-70s, however, good-government sorts were pushing to modernize state legislatures and make them less dependent on governors and the powerful interests.

For example, in my first year as a House member (1969), I had no office, no staff help. To make telephone calls, I had to go to a row of phone booths just off the House floor. Read More

Thinking About Health: Drug Prices Keep Rising With No End in Sight

TrudyLieberman-Photo•August 24, 2016•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

Recently a tweet from Lauren Sausser, a fine health reporter I know in South Carolina, caught my eye. “Crazy drug prices became personal. My dad will start Keytruda regimen on Friday, $15,000 per infusion, once every three weeks indefinitely.” The high cost of pharmaceuticals had hit home!

Her 61-year-old father, Jim McCallister, who lives in Spartanburg, S.C., had been diagnosed with a melanoma discovered during a routine skin exam a few weeks earlier. It had spread to his lungs. Doctors recommended the drug which uses the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells and has showed promise in treating aggressive melanomas.

McCallister’s employer-provided insurance is paying for most of his treatment, and the family is looking into Merck’s co-pay program. In the meantime, McCallister faces several thousand dollars of out-of-pocket costs.

McCallister may be lucky cost-wise. But the fact remains: Somebody is paying for the high cost of Keytruda and other new drugs coming on the market. Sausser said her dad asked if insurance would cover the drug. “The doctor told him they would find some way.”

That’s the nub of the dilemma. For many such as McCallister, there may be help, often from the drug companies themselves in the form of patient assistance plans. Remember drug company AstraZeneca’s ads for some of its costly drugs: “AstraZeneca may be able to help”? Read More