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Exhibit Of The Month: Maps Tell Powerful Stories About Children, Neighborhoods, And Possible Policy Solutions


November 25th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing “Exhibit of the Month” series. Readers who’d like to highlight other noteworthy exhibits from the same issue are encouraged to make their pitch in the comments section below.

Maps and health have been powerfully intertwined since nineteenth-century British physician John Snow produced a hand-drawn map that famously showed a correlation between the locations where cholera was killing hundreds of Londoners during an 1854 epidemic and the Broad Street pump where locals unknowingly drew water contaminated with the deadly bacterium.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and maps that tell compelling stories about health, policy, and place are ubiquitous. If Snow were alive today, no doubt his stethoscope would be spinning.

The power and art of mapping, geospatial analysis, and health policy research are regularly featured in Health Affairs, but never before to the extent in the journal’s November issue. Four research papers give readers five maps that depict meaningful findings about children, low-income neighborhoods, and other local characteristics that affect health and offer valuable insights for policy makers.

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Workplace Wellness Produces No Savings


November 25th, 2014

During the last decade, workplace wellness programs have become commonplace in corporate America. The majority of US employers with 50 or more employees now offer the programs. A 2010 meta-analysis that was favorable to workplace wellness programs, published in Health Affairs, provided support for their uptake. This meta-analysis, plus a well-publicized “success” story from Safeway, coalesced into the so-called Safeway Amendment in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). That provision allows employers to tie a substantial and increasing share of employee insurance premiums to health status/behaviors, and subsidizes such program implementation by smaller employers. The assumption was that improved employee health would reduce the employer burden of health care costs.

Subsequently, however, Safeway’s story has been discredited. And the lead author of the 2010 meta-analysis, Harvard School of Public Health Professor Katherine Baicker, has cautioned on several occasions that more research is needed to draw any definitive conclusions. Now, more than four years into the ACA, we conclude that these programs increase, rather than decrease employer spending on health care with no net health benefit. The programs also cause overutilization of screening and check-ups in generally healthy working age adult populations, put undue stress on employees, and incentivize unhealthy forms of weight-loss.

Through a review of the research literature and primary sources, we have found that wellness programs produce a return-on-investment (ROI) of less than 1-to-1 savings to cost. This blog post will consider the results of two compelling study designs — population-based wellness-sensitive medical event analysis, and randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Then it will look at the popular, although weaker, participant vs. non-participant study design. (It is beyond the scope of this posting to question non-peer-reviewed vendor savings claims that do not use any recognized study design, though those claims are commonplace.)

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What Is The Future For Community Health Workers?


November 25th, 2014

I recently attended a symposium entitled “Community Health Workers: Getting the Job Done in Health Care Delivery.” (My concluding remarks begin at the 6:00:40 mark in the video.) Speakers examined the evolving role of Community Health Workers (CHWs) in the current era of delivery system reform. Health Affairs has published work documenting the importance of this part of the workforce, and our November issue is dedicated to the topic of “Collaborating for Community Health.”

I was asked to summarize some key points from the day-long conversation. In this post I highlight some of the themes covered.

Over the course of the day I heard the elements of two very different paths forward for community health workers. Each path was coherent and compelling, but they lead in very different directions.

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Health Affairs December Briefing: Children’s Health


November 24th, 2014

Threats to children’s health have changed dramatically over the past few generations, but America’s health care system has been slow to transform to meet children’s evolving needs. The December 2014 thematic issue of Health Affairs examines the current state of children’s health, health care delivery, and coverage.

You are invited to join us on Monday, December 8, at a forum featuring authors from the new issue at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.  Panels will cover financing, delivery, access, and the social determinants of children’s health, and spotlight innovative programs that are making a difference.

WHEN: 
Monday, December 8, 2014
9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

WHERE: 
National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 13th Floor

REGISTER NOW!

Follow live tweets from the briefing @Health_Affairs, and join in the conversation with #HA_ChildHealth. 

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Adverse Events In Older Adults: The Need For Better Long-Term Care Financing And Delivery Innovation


November 20th, 2014

Evidence mounts that a major disconnect exists between the services most frail older adults need and what they get. The vast majority of frail older adults (around 75 percent) who face challenges in taking care of themselves live at home. According to new research from Vicki Freedman and Brenda Stillman, published in the most recent issue of The Milbank Quarterly, almost a third of these older adults report having an adverse consequence as a result of not getting the help they need. These consequences are pretty grim – the most frequently reported event being wet clothes associated with an unmet need around toileting.

But the most shocking statistic from this research is that hiring a paid helper appears to do little to protect against these consequences. Among those who hired help, nearly 60 percent reported adverse consequences. No doubt this reflects a higher level of need: paid helpers are brought in when the risk is quite high. But, it also reflects an inadequacy in support — an analogous group living in supportive housing (i.e., residential care or assisted living facilities) reported these events at a much lower rate (36 percent).

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Risk And Reform Of Long-Term Care


November 14th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of several posts stemming from presentations given at “The Law of Medicare and Medicaid at Fifty,” a conference held at Yale Law School on November 6 and 7.

The 50th Anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid offers an opportunity to reflect on how U.S. social policy has conceived of the problem of long-term care.

Social insurance programs aim to create greater security—typically financial security—for American families (See Note 1). Programs for long-term care, however, have had mixed results. The most recent attempt at reform, which Ted Kennedy ushered through as a part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), called the CLASS Act, was actuarially unsound and later repealed. Medicare and especially Medicaid, the two primary government programs to address long-term care needs, are criticized for failing to meet the needs of people with a disability or illness, who need long-term services or supports. These critiques are valid.

Even more troublesome, however, long-term care policy, especially in its most recent evolution toward home-based care, has intensified a second type of insecurity for Americans. This insecurity arises when someone becomes responsible for the long-term care of a loved one. In a longer forthcoming article, I argue that this insecurity—which I call “next-friend risk”—poses a serious threat to Americans and needs to be addressed. (I borrow the phrase next friend from a legal term for a person who in litigation represents someone with a disability who is otherwise unable to represent him or herself. Although not a legal guardian, the next friend protects the interests of an incompetent person.)

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Health Affairs Event Reminder: Collaborating For Community Health


November 4th, 2014

Policymakers are paying increasing attention to the relationship between the characteristics of communities and the health of the people living in them. The November 2014 issue of Health Affairs, “Collaborating For Community Health,” examines new possibilities created by alignment of the fields of health and community development.

These possibilities come from both sides, including recent changes in the community development field that have set the stage for the new focus on improving health, as well as new approaches to health care financing that create incentives for improving health outcomes.

You are invited to join us on Wednesday, November 5, at a forum featuring authors from the new issue at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

WHEN:
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

WHERE:
National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 13th Floor

REGISTER NOW!

Follow live Tweets from the briefing @Health_Affairs, and join in the conversation with #HA_CommunityHealth.

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Social Services And Community Health: Health Affairs’ November Issue


November 3rd, 2014

The November issue of Health Affairs includes a number of studies looking at how social services and community support programs can improve the health of local residents. Other subjects covered: the potential for pay-for-performance payment models to create a market that values health, not just health care; how one safety-net accountable care organization is uniquely improving care coordination; a three-year progress report on a regional health collaborative; and more.

This issue of Health Affairs is supported by The Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It will be discussed at a Wednesday, November 5 briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

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Bringing Health, Wellness, And Opportunity To Coal Country


October 31st, 2014

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series written for Health Affairs Blog by local leaders from communities honored with the annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize. In 2014, six winning communities were selected by RWJF from more than 250 applicants and celebrated for placing a priority on health and creating powerful partnerships to drive change.

A small Appalachian coal mining town might seem like an unlikely place for a contemporary community health revolution, but Williamson, WV can proudly claim that achievement. As a city of 3,098 people along the banks of the Tug Fork River, Williamson has a long history of defying expectations. In the late 19th and early 20th century, it became the center of a cultural renaissance that began when the Norfolk and Western Railway brought people from all over the United States to Mingo County (Williamson is the county seat).

This diverse group of entrepreneurs and miners turned Williamson into a sophisticated urban center that became the “heart” of America’s billion-dollar-coal-field. They created an infrastructure that survived three great floods and today is part of a network of facilities that are being used for renewed development through the Sustainable Williamson project — a six-part initiative designed to bring better health and economic opportunity to a region faced with daunting financial and public health challenges.

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Poverty’s Association With Poor Health Outcomes and Health Disparities


October 30th, 2014

A recent ecological study by Carl Stevens, David Schriger, Brian Raffetto, Anna Davis, David Zingmond, and Dylan H. Roby, published in the August issue of Health Affairs, showed significant associations between neighborhood poverty and diabetes-related lower extremity amputations (LEA) in the state of California, which adds to the growing evidence that where you live (not just how you live) may directly impact your health.

The authors linked data from multiple sources (i.e. California Health Information Survey, Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, health facility discharge data) and used geographic information system (GIS) analyses and regression analyses to identify amputation “hot spots” and uncovered a 10-fold variation in LEA rates between low-income and high-income neighborhoods.

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Health Affairs Briefing: Collaborating For Community Health


October 29th, 2014

Policymakers are paying increasing attention to the relationship between the characteristics of communities and the health of the people living in them. The November 2014 issue of Health Affairs, “Collaborating For Community Health,” examines new possibilities created by alignment of the fields of health and community development.

These possibilities come from both sides, including recent changes in the community development field that have set the stage for the new focus on improving health, as well as new approaches to health care financing that create incentives for improving health outcomes.

You are invited to join us on Wednesday, November 5, at a forum featuring authors from the new issue at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

WHEN:
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

WHERE:
National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 13th Floor

REGISTER NOW!

Follow live Tweets from the briefing @Health_Affairs, and join in the conversation with #HA_CommunityHealth.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tax-Exempt Status For Nonprofit Hospitals Under The ACA: Where Are The Final Treasury/IRS Rules?


October 23rd, 2014

Months have now stretched into years, and there still remains no sign of final Treasury/IRS regulations interpreting the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s provisions covering the expanded obligations of nonprofit hospitals that seek tax-exempt status under §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

The ACA amendments do not depend on formal agency policy to take effect. Nonetheless, Congress directed the Treasury Secretary to issue regulations and guidance necessary to carry out the reforms (26 U.S.C. §501(r)(7)). To this end, two important sets of proposed rules were issued: the first in June, 2012; and the second, in April 2013. While an informative IRS website lists various proposed rules and guidelines important to nonprofit hospitals, final rules seem to have performed a disappearing act.

Apparently recognizing the problems created by its delays, the agency has gone so far as to issue a special Notice letting nonprofit hospitals (and presumably the public) know that they can rely on its proposed rules. But this assurance overlooks the fact that the proposed rules themselves contained crucial areas in which final agency policy has not yet been adopted.

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Brownsville: A Culture of Health, Not Health Challenges


October 14th, 2014

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series written for Health Affairs Blog by local leaders from communities honored with the annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize. In 2014, six winning communities were selected by RWJF from more than 250 applicants and celebrated for placing a priority on health and creating powerful partnerships to drive change.

Brownsville is a culturally diverse, south Texas border town, a stone’s throw from Mexico. The 180,000 residents, mostly Spanish-speaking, live in one of the poorest metropolitan areas in the United States and have massive public health needs. In Brownsville, 48 percent of the children live in poverty, and 80 percent of our population is obese or overweight. Thirty percent have diabetes and half of them don’t know it. About 67 percent have no health insurance.

But in Brownsville, you will also find a robust, bike-friendly city, community gardens, and the world’s largest Zumba® class. That’s because in the last 10 years Brownsville has developed innovative partnerships, extensive outreach efforts, and a shared commitment to achieve wellness.

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An Evolving Approach To Collaborations Among Health And Other Sectors


September 25th, 2014

Much evidence exists on the potential for prevention and health promotion to decrease the burden of chronic diseases. The Institute of Medicine (IOM), for example, has issued many reports with recommendations to use population-based and individual prevention programs and policy and legal interventions to improve diets, increase physical activity, and stop tobacco use.

These reports also note that achieving progress in health promotion will require the engagement of other non-health sectors. This isn’t breaking news—terms like “multisectoral” or “health in all policies” prevail in public health dialogue. Yet the question remains – if it is so well accepted that the health sector alone cannot improve health, why don’t multisectoral programs and policies happen more often and more successfully?

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IOM Report Calls For Transformation Of Care For The Seriously Ill


September 24th, 2014

The new Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on care near the end of life in the United States was released last week. I had the privilege of serving on the Committee for the last two years, involved both in the writing of the report itself and in coming to consensus on its recommendations.

The name of the report and the charge to the Committee from the IOM was focused on “end of life.” However, the title, “Dying in America,” is something of a misnomer. The report itself focuses extensively on people with serious and chronic illness with indeterminate prognoses, why the current health care system fails so consistently to meet their needs, and what must change to improve the situation.

Hospice is the gold standard of care quality for those that are predictably dying and clearly at the end of life, and we are fortunate as a nation to have such a strong (mostly home) hospice infrastructure, but that’s not where most of the problems lie. The problems lie in the lack of options for people who are either not hospice-eligible (prognosis uncertain or continuing to want and benefit from disease treatment) or are referred to hospice much too late in their disease course to influence their experience and their families’.

The new report builds on the 1998 IOM report “Approaching Death” and goes well beyond the usual nostrums of calling for reimbursement for advance care planning and decrying all the “waste” in health care spending during the last year of life.

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Pediatric Asthma: An Opportunity In Payment Reform And Public Health


September 18th, 2014

Editor’s note: The post is informed by a case study, the third in a series made possible through the Merkin Initiative on Physician Payment Reform and Clinical Leadership, a special project to develop clinician leadership in health care delivery and financing reform. The case study will be presented on Wednesday, September 24 using a “MEDTalk” format featuring live story-telling and knowledge-sharing from patients, providers, and policymakers. 

The Clinical Challenge: A Chronic, but Manageable Illness

Asthma affects 7 million children – more than 10 percent of kids in the U.S. – and is the most common chronic childhood disease. Yet even with high levels of insurance coverage, 46 percent of pediatric patients have uncontrolled asthma. There are substantial gaps in appropriate prescribing and adherence to effective medications. In addition, a multitude of non-medical issues influence a child’s ability to control their asthma: low parental health literacy, poor quality housing, and environmental triggers such as pests, mold, and cleaning chemicals. As a result 800,000 kids visit the emergency department (ED) for asthma each year.

In 2007 (the latest year which data are available) the U.S. spent over $56 billion on asthma care, of which nearly $27 billion was spent on pediatric asthma. Medicaid is the primary payer for pediatric asthma related hospitalizations with 55 percent of the market. Better control may also mean lower medical costs, due to reductions in ED visits, admissions, and other health care utilization – patients with poorly controlled severe asthma cost nearly $5,000 more per patient per year compared to average pediatric asthmatic costs.

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Taos Pueblo: A Sovereign Nation Sees Positive Public Health Results


September 15th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series written for Health Affairs Blog by local leaders from communities honored with the annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize. In 2014, six winning communities were selected by RWJF from more than 250 applicants and celebrated for placing a priority on health and creating powerful partnerships to drive change. Interested communities are encouraged to apply for the 2015 RWJF Culture of Health Prize. Applications are due September 17, 2014.

The Taos Pueblo in New Mexico is a National Historic Landmark and one of a handful of places around the world designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. Native Americans have continuously lived in this ancient tribal community, with its remarkable multi-story adobe buildings, for more than 1,000 years. Today, the Taos Pueblo tribe has about 1,350 people living on some more than 100,000 acres, just outside the artist community of Taos.

The pueblo has its share of poverty and unemployment, along with troubling rates of diabetes, obesity, and alcoholism. Data from the Indian Health Service clinic at the pueblo show that about 47 percent of pueblo youth under age 20 are overweight or obese. And 21 percent of the adults have diabetes. Many pueblo residents live below the poverty level, which is not surprising as their economy is based on tourism, crafts, and a small casino.

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Advancing Innovation To Eliminate Health Disparities


September 4th, 2014

The advent of population health management, community-based care coordination and mobile health technologies provide a promising opportunity to address longstanding and persistent health disparities. Separately each adds a new dimension to research and analysis, and to individual and community-level public health prevention and access to quality care. Together, providers, payers and researchers alike can acquire a richer understanding of contextual, environmental, and behavioral factors that contribute to disparate outcomes in health.

Existing innovations in data capture, epidemiologic profiling, clinical translation, and workforce development have yet to be taken to scale or appropriately deployed in a manner that would benefit vulnerable populations. Meaningful use technologies, for example, appear to be stuck in the proverbial pipeline with resistance in uptake and limited distribution of incentives. Meaning access and application in poor and disparate communities where they are more often subjects of research and not partners in innovation is far off.

What public health, and community-based and clinically focused interventions need is a fresh look at how health disparities are measured and the processes for application of solutions to needy populations.

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Exhibit Of The Month: Income-Related Disparities Associated With Negative Health Outcomes


August 29th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing “Exhibit of the Month” series. Readers who’d like to highlight other noteworthy exhibits from the same issue are encouraged to make their pitch in the comments section below.

Much is known about income-related disparities when it comes to preventative care and chronic conditions, but less so about the associations between poverty and negative health outcomes.

In “Geographic Clustering Of Diabetic Lower-Extremity Amputations In Low-Income Regions Of California,” published in the August issue of Health Affairs, authors Carl Stevens et al. identify diabetic amputation “hot spots” in low-income urban and rural areas of California (Exhibit 2).

Based on California data from 2009, they isolated 7,973 lower-extremity amputations in 6,828 adults with diabetes. They compare this to a corresponding map of poverty rates in the same region based on households who reported incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level (Exhibit 3).

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Collaboration, Consistency, and Community Spirit: How Durham Advances Health


August 28th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series written for Health Affairs Blog by local leaders from communities honored with the annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize. In 2014, six winning communities were selected by RWJF from more than 250 applicants and celebrated for placing a priority on health and creating powerful partnerships to drive change. Interested communities are encouraged to apply for the 2015 RWJF Culture of Health Prize. Applications are due September 17, 2014.

Durham, North Carolina is so richly endowed with health care resources that it is known as “the City of Medicine;” it is home to 95 percent of the companies that comprise the Research Triangle. Yet, while many of the county’s 288,133 residents are thriving, others are not nearly as healthy.

A 2004 community health assessment revealed that in Durham’s very diverse population — currently, 38.7 percent black, 42.1 percent white, and 13.5 percent Hispanic — there were high rates of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and infant mortality.

A 2007 evaluation also showed that 29 percent of the county’s adults were obese. The rate was 42 percent among African Americans. In the same report, 49 percent of adults said their health prevented them from participating in even moderate physical activities. Among children entering kindergarten in 2009, 18 percent were overweight or obese.

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