During the Affordable Care Act’s Second Open Enrollment Period, Foundations Reach Out

January 30th, 2015

With the current tax-filing season upon us now and the need for people to learn about reporting their compliance with the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) individual mandate, it is good to see what foundations are doing to educate people about the law, or what some call Obamacare, in general.

Here are a few examples of foundation-funded projects that have come across my desk in the past few months. They show how foundations can inform the public about the successes and challenges of reform.

Resources to Aid in ACA Open Enrollment (including a cartoon video!)

On December 22 the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) put out an e-alert letting ACA navigators and assistors, as well as journalists, know about three helpful resources on its website.

  • A list of answers to nearly 300 frequently asked questions (FAQs) about health reform. Topics of new and updated FAQs include plan cancellations, financial assistance for coverage, potential penalties for not obtaining coverage, exemptions to the individual mandate, and more. There is an abundance of information here for novices and even folks who may think they know quite a bit about the ACA.
  • The KFF’s Health Insurance Marketplace Calculator, which has zip code–specific data on 2015 plans sold by the marketplaces, allows consumers to generate estimates of health insurance premiums and any government subsidies available to them under the various plans, the e-alert says. This calculator can also help people figure out if they are eligible for Medicaid. This tool is available in Spanish.
  • And, last but not least, the foundation has released another YouToons video (cartoon on YouTube), also available in Spanish. I have to say that I really enjoy these well-done KFF productions. (Free Range Studios did the creative production and animation on this newest one.) The title of the newest video, released on December 2, is “Health Insurance Explained: The YouToons Have It Covered.” This is useful because, remember, not everyone understands, for example, what a “deductible” or a “provider network” is. The narrator is former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). (He is on the KFF’s board of trustees.) Frist reminds viewers that understanding health insurance is important to one’s health and one’s wallet.

Recent KFF polling has found that more than 40 percent of the uninsured “could not correctly identify the definitions of essential health insurance terms” (source: KFF poll conducted in October 2014) and only 5 percent of the uninsured knew that they have until February 15, 2015 to sign up for coverage under the ACA (source: KFF poll conducted in December 2014), the e-alert says.

Large Employers

On December 18, the Pacific Business Group on Health (PBGH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) released results of a survey of large employers’ priorities in health policy. Of highest importance to senior executives in jumbo-sized companies in the United States were policies to advance reform of the health care delivery system, better measure quality of care, and achieve more price transparency across the US health care system, according to a press release. And almost 90 percent of respondents believed that “greater engagement in the health care policymaking process is an important mechanism for bringing about needed change.” Because there are barriers to most businesses being more proactively engaged in health policy, many of the executives surveyed believed “the best way to influence [health] policy is by engaging in various coalitions and associations,” the release explained. Read the rest of this entry »

Foundations Look at Electronic Cigarettes

January 26th, 2015

On January 22, the New England Journal of Medicine published a letter titled “Hidden Formaldehyde in E-Cigarette Aerosols.” It reports on a chemical analysis of vapor from e-cigarettes “that shows high levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen,” the journal says on its website. “The authors project that the associated incremental lifetime risk of cancer could be higher than that from long-term smoking.”

What are foundations doing to learn about e-cigarettes?

Survey Results

On January 15 Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health (a grant-making nonprofit that was formerly named the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati) released information on Kentuckians’ views of electronic or e-cigarettes. These findings come from the Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP), which is conducted annually by these two organizations. As the poll explained, “e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices used to inhale vaporized liquid,” which contains nicotine, and some e-cigarettes “have flavorings and other ingredients.”

The survey, conducted in October and November 2014, found that use of e-cigarettes is most prevalent among the youngest adults in Kentucky: 41 percent of respondents ages 18–29 say they have ever used the devices. The percentages decreased as the respondents got older: 33 percent of respondents ages 30–45, 20 percent of those ages 46–64, and only 11 percent of respondents age 65 and older have ever tried the devices.

Sixty-one percent of adults polled would like to see the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes. (Editor’s note: In a rule proposed in 2014, the FDA indicated its intention to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco and not for therapeutic purposes.)

More than half of adults favor e-cigarettes incurring an excise tax—at a rate similar to that for regular cigarettes in Kentucky. (When broken down by political affiliation, more than half of self-identified Independents, Republicans, and Democrats want that excise tax to accompany “the already required sales tax” on e-cigarettes, says a press release.)

Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, pointed out in the release that the Bluegrass State is among many states that prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

The Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati conducted the telephone poll of 1,597 adults. Landlines and cell phones were called.

Read a September 2014 GrantWatch article in Health Affairs about the Kentucky Health Issues Poll: “For Two Regional Health Foundations, Returns from the Kentucky Health Issues Poll Are Worth the Investments,” by Sarah E. Walsh of Eastern Michigan University and coauthors. (free abstract)

Comments on recent Monitoring the Future report

Legacy (formerly called the American Legacy Foundation) issued a December 16 press release on the newest Monitoring the Future study, which is conducted by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The Legacy release notes that smoking of traditional cigarettes by teenagers in the United States “reached a new low” of 8 percent in 2014. However, Monitoring the Future data show “strong interest in e-cigarettes among teenagers,” with use among eighth and tenth graders at double the rate of their use of tobacco cigarettes. The study’s data “present a very concerning twist in the story of tobacco prevention as this significant reduction in teen smoking is offset by a new source of nicotine addiction in e-cigarettes,” said Robin Koval, Legacy’s CEO, in the release. Read Legacy’s history.

Although “e-cigarettes may offer real benefits for those trying to quit [traditional smoking], the number of teens reporting 30-day past use [of them] is a cause for concern,” said David Abrams, executive director of Legacy’s Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies, in the release. (The institute is named for Steve Schroeder, former president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), who is currently a professor at the University of California, San Francisco.) Abrams says that e-cigarettes have nicotine, which “is not for kids because of its addictive nature and negative impact on adolescent brain development.”

Read the rest of this entry »

New in the Journal: Public Health in America: How Foundations Are Contributing; Other PH News

January 21st, 2015

My January 2015 GrantWatch column (free access) focuses on public health and what a variety of foundations around the country are doing to improve it. GrantWatch is Health Affairs journal’s section on health philanthropy.

One section of the column is on education—with examples of foundations funding public health schools and, in one instance, professorships. The next section highlights some foundation investments in educating people about the important role of public health efforts, including Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports, a blog published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and a database of infectious diseases. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded development of the database.

Also, I mention the BUILD Health Challenge, which you may have heard of by now. This initiative “to identify and fund innovative community partnerships that aim to improve health in low-income urban areas with a population of at least 150,000” was launched in November by the Advisory Board Company, de Beaumont Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and the RWJF.

We hope to have a guest blog post this summer on the grantees, which will be announced in June, and one or two additional funders that have come on board since I wrote this column.

The column’s final section is on the public health workforce and describes the Kresge Foundation’s new initiative called Emerging Leaders in Public Health.

And don’t forget to read “Key Personnel Changes,” a section about comings and goings in health philanthropy. Remember Len McNally of the New York Community Trust, who has worked there some twenty-five years? Read where he is going at the end of this month. And the Endowment for Health, in Concord, New Hampshire, has a new vice president for programs. Those are just a couple of tidbits—there is more staff news in the GrantWatch column.

Read the January 2015 GrantWatch column.

Other news:


In December, Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the RWJF released Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases. “The Ebola outbreak exposes serious underlying gaps in the nation’s ability to manage severe infectious disease threats,” says a press release on the report. States were ranked on how many of ten key indicators (on preventing, detecting, diagnosing, and responding to outbreaks) they were able to achieve. Maryland (where I live and work), Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia tied for the top score: they each achieved eight of the ten indicators. Half of the states and the District of Columbia achieved five or fewer indicators, including Arkansas, which had the lowest score—having only achieved two indicators, the release says. See how your state ranks! Read the rest of this entry »

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