Health Care

Confused by that number you keep hearing from the candidates in connection with Medicare – $716 billion dollars? Who’s cutting what? Which side is right? Kaiser Health News‘ Mary Agnes Carey cuts through the campaign clutter for you with an excellent FAQ.

There are a few new tools out there for comparing and researching health care options in Rhode Island. I don’t recommend basing your decision solely on one of these web tools. I do recommend digging deeper and getting behind the rankings. But I think they might be a helpful starting place for some, especially if you’re looking for care for a loved one.

I blogged earlier this summer about a pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak in Rhode Island and a growing number of cases throughout the country (see the latest from the RI Dept. of Health). There were some indications then that the vaccine was losing its efficacy. But that may not be the full picture.

There’s a lot of buzz about Medicare, the nation’s health insurance program for seniors and the disabled, right now. I wonder how Rhode Island’s Medicare recipients are reading all of this. Confusion? Concern? Here are some of the stories I’ve been following and my best effort at sorting fact from fiction:

The Block Island Times reports that the island’s health center won’t be partnering with Thundermist, a partnership the health center hoped would help defray costs and boost resources. The news came, according to the BI Times, as a surprise to attendees of a recent town council meeting. BIHS is also reeling after losing its director suddenly – for reasons that aren’t yet public.


Westerly Hospital is closer to being acquired by the CT-based nonprofit Lawrence & Memorial. That might provide some relief to the financially troubled hospital, which has been in receivership since late last year (see lots of great posts about that by my illustrious predecessor).

There’s an interesting new issue out of the journal Health Affairs about the many challenges facing the nation’s “safety net” health care providers (such as big urban hospitals and others providing a  lot of so-called “uncompensated care.”). But, according to the issue’s editor, there are other stories, too:

“Meanwhile, other articles in this issue delineate the great strides that many safety-net providers have made in system integration and care coordination—in essence, preparing themselves to be leaders in delivering care and managing population health.”

No pun intended. Well, OK, maybe a little bit intended.

But seriously, folks. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published its 2012 breastfeeding report card for all 50 states. And Rhode Island seems to be making progress in some areas. But not all. We’re lagging behind on a few key measures. For example, the report shows that about 34% of Rhode Island babies were fed breast milk, exclusively, through the age of three months. The national average is 36%.

First, here’s how the CDC describes what the report aims to tell us and how states play a role:

Being new in town, I needed to find a primary care doctor for my daughter, who is almost 11 years old. I used my health insurance’s web site to find a list of providers. Every one I called said they weren’t taking new patients. I called pediatric specialists, family doctors. I called offices close to home, an hour away, and everywhere in between…to no avail.

Finally I found a walk-in clinic about an hour away that could at least update her immunizations and sign some paperwork for the new school she’ll attend at the end of August.

You might think a health care reporter wouldn’t have much interest in covering the Olympics. Think again! (Personally, I can’t wait for the opening ceremonies tonight.)

Thomas Hicks, during 1904 Olympic marathon

This afternoon, I joined RIPR’s All Things Considered host Dave Fallon to talk about what’s happening with hospital prices and something called “payment reform.” You can listen to a recording of that discussion here.

For those of you who want to dig in to the issue, here are links to a few reports, studies, and articles I found helpful. Please feel free to let me know about others.

The ongoing public dispute between Landmark Hospital in Woonsocket and private insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island continues to heat up. Today, the hospital and its allies released the results of a survey it commissioned to gauge public opinion on its battle to win higher reimbursement rates from Blue Cross. Not surprisingly, it saw, in the results, a citizenry ready to blame Blue Cross if the hospital goes under. Blue Cross shot back in a statement to me via email today that it has “negotiated in good faith” with Landmark and that, as far as the survey is concerned:

The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation have just released new estimates of what President Obama’s Affordable Care Act will cost, and the numbers are less than previously thought. From the CBO Director’s Blog:

We’re seeing a few more cases of pertussis (whooping cough) in Rhode Island than usual right now (the total is eight as of Friday, July 20). But in the state of Washington, it’s reached official epidemic status. The Centers for Disease Control reports today in its weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report that, although the pertussis incidence rate is higher in Washington, there’s a national trend emerging in terms of what age groups are getting sick:

The RI Department of Environmental Management says in a statement today that a weekly sampling of mosquitoes collected from a swamp in Westerly tested positive for West Nile virus. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hermetically seal yourself, your kids, and your pets inside until the first frost. But the presence of West Nile and other diseases transmitted by so-called “vectors” like mosquitoes and ticks in our area should mean you take a few precautions before venturing into the great outdoors.