The Pulse

The Pulse is written by Kristin Gourlay, an award winning health care reporter for Rhode Island Public Radio.

Full archive of The Pulse can be found here.

Congratulations, class of 2015! You've got your diploma, and you're headed out into the world to start your life as an adult. Well done. If you've already lined up a job, with health insurance, doubly well done! But if not, don't worry. And don't assume you have to go without coverage. You have options.

Rhode Island Department of Health

More than half of Native American children in Rhode Island live in poverty. The infant mortality rate for blacks is twice that of whites in Rhode Island.

RIPR file photo

The Rhode Island House Committee on Finance (Subcommittee on Human Services) heard testimony today about the revised FY '15 and recommended FY '16 budget for the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. That's Rhode Island's child welfare agency, responsible for thousands of children who have been abused or neglected. They provide services to families to help stabilize them and work through a crisis so kids can stay in the home, place kids in foster care, group homes, or residential treatment if needed, and supervise the Training School, Rhode Island's juvenile detention facility.

In 2013, the top prescribed drug for Rhode Islanders with Medicare drug plans was Omeprazole, a treatment for heart burn, ulcers, and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Health care providers wrote about 190,000 prescriptions for it.

(Reminder: Medicare is the health benefit plan for people over the age of 65 or disabled adults.)

That's followed by atorvastatin calcium (brand name Lipitor), used for lowering cholesterol - prescribed to 27,000 individuals.

A group of 29 Rhode Islanders, from health care providers to policy experts and lawmakers, has been convening for several months to come up with a plan to find $90 million dollars in savings from Medicaid. (Wonk note: That $90 million is just state dollars. The budget proposal calls for cutting more than $180 million, some of which is federal matching dollars.). That was at the behest of Gov. Gina Raimondo, who asked for help closing a nearly $200 million dollar state budget deficit.

Here’s a deeper look at some of the 34 initiatives they’ve proposed to do that.

Brown University hosts a forum Tuesday on legalizing marijuana. The event will feature doctors and researchers with perspective on the health effects of marijuana. Other experts will discuss public safety issues and the cost of regulating and taxing marijuana.

The forum comes as Rhode Island lawmakers consider once again whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Proponents say it will make marijuana sales safer and reduce unnecessary jail time. Opponents point to the adverse health effects of marijuana, including the potential for addiction.

As Gov. Gina Raimondo's "Reinvent Medicaid" task force rockets toward the finish line, having recently spelled out more details about how the group recommends finding nearly $90 million dollars in savings from the program, they bring with them plenty of vocal feedback from health care stakeholders around the state. One hospital system, Care New England, has been a more dominant voice at the table, with the group's leader, Dennis Keefe, co-chairing the task force. The voice of the state's largest hospital system, Lifespan, has been less audible.

Members of Gov. Gina Raimondo's Reinvent Medicaid task force huddled for hours Wednesday to go over nearly three dozen initiatives designed to save Medicaid money. Their goal: find $90 million dollars in savings for Medicaid, the state's medical assistance program for the poor.

Here's a run down of where the effort is headed, straight from the fourth floor board room at CCRI in Warwick, where the meeting was held.

As anticipated, the biggest savings are projected to come from institutional health care providers.

In honor of Donate Life month (a yearly celebration of organ donors and recipients), I thought I'd offer a few suggestions for helping someone else lead a healthy life in Rhode Island, including how to donate organs and tissue.

But first, some facts:

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the trend in smoking traditional cigarettes among teens is down. That's great news on many levels. But as traditional cigarette smoking has declined, the use of electronic cigarettes has tripled over the past few years.

Wondering whether to worry? Or even what the heck an e-cigarette actually is? I've been combing the latest research to help answer those questions.

Laurie Avocado / Creative Commons license

Several caregivers and patients participating in the state's medical marijuana program have reached out to me recently, offering to educate me about their role and the benefits of the program.

Massachusetts public health officials are looking to Rhode Island for some new ideas to combat drug overdose deaths. They're interested in a program that connects emergency room patients with addiction recovery coaches.

RIPR

An Associated Press analysis finds some veterans are waiting longer than the VA’s 30 day goal for a medical appointment. But at the Providence VA, just two percent of appointments fail to meet that goal. That's an improvement from six months ago, when about six percent of wait times failed to meet the timeliness goal.

Is Rhode Island spending more than other states caring for the elderly? Or not enough?

(See update, below, plus a reminder: the final Reinvent Medicaid public town hall meeting is scheduled for tonight at 6 pm at the East Bay Family Health Center in Newport.)

That's a question that's come up for debate at the recent "Reinventing Medicaid" town hall meetings around the state, and in statements from groups with a stake in the outcome of Gov. Gina Raimondo's plans to trim nearly $180 million dollars in state (and federal) Medicaid spending.

County Health Rankings 2015 / Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has released its annual County Health Rankings, and Rhode Island's counties (Providence in particular) seem to be faring worse than the national average on a few measures, and much better on a few, too.

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