March 5, 2015

Open enrollment is—open (Audio)

Open enrollment in the federal health insurance plan appears to be going more smoothly this year. It started on the 15th and it continues through February 15th, a shorter period than last year when the program ran into numerous snags for first-time enrollees.

The Missouri Foundation for Health is encouraging those who enrolled last year to stay in the program and to seek help picking the right plan. That’s because more insurance companies have entered the marketplace and in some districts, the number of options has doubled.

Foundation Vice President Ryan Barker hopes Missouri enrollment increases by at least one-third this year. “Last year, by the end of open enrollment, we had enrolled a little more than 152,000 Missourians…That exceeded the federal goal for Missouri by almost thirty percent,” he says. Barker hopes all of those people will re-enroll and at least 50,000 new families sign up.

He says Missourians who do nothing are automatically enrolled in the same or similar plan for the next year.   People wanting a new plan that will start January first only have until December 15th to enroll.  Those who want until the last two weeks won’t be covered until March first.

The February 15 deadline does not affect those enrolling in Medicaid or in the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Missourians can enroll in those programs at any time.

AUDIO: Barker interview 10:50

Missouri House party leaders on Medicaid expansion future (VIDEOS)

The future of the Medicaid expansion debate seems clear with the state legislature dominated by Republicans who oppose it, but Democrats say they’ll keep pushing.

John Diehl addresses the media the morning after his caucus was extended to a 118-member majority in the Missouri House.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

John Diehl addresses the media the morning after his caucus was extended to a 118-member majority in the Missouri House. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Governor Jay Nixon has told reporters the expansion of Medicaid remains important and says he will push for it. Asked to respond, House Speaker-Elect John Diehl first turns and draws reporters’ eyes to his 117 fellow House Republicans.

“Take a look at the elections,” says Diehl. “I think clearly on the federal level Obamacare has been rejected by the voters of this country and I think if you take a look at the elections that happened [Tuesday], I think it’s also been rejected by the voters of this state.”

Video:  Speaker-Elect John Diehl is critical of the timing of Democrats’ support for Medicaid expansion

Democrats have only 45 members in the state House, but the caucus’ leader Jacob Hummel says they will also keep pushing for expansion.

“Absolutely. It’s the right thing to do. I think it’s crucial,” says Hummel. “You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people that don’t have access to health insurance because they don’t qualify to be on the exchange and it’s really a shame. The state’s losing a lot of money.”

Diehl says Republicans will look for ways to reform Medicaid and Hummel says that’s something his party has always been willing to talk about.

“There’s no doubt that the Medicaid system that we have now to implement the low threshold of eligibility right now is broken,” says Diehl. “That has to be fixed, it wastes money, it doesn’t provide the medical services that are needed … and so yes, I think we’re going to probably try to address that.”

Hummel says he’s always been willing to talk reform, but wants to see some action.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to vote on it. It was brought up as kind of a circus show,” says Hummel. “I think it would have passed last year if we would have had a vote on it out of the House. Getting it out of the Senate is obviously another matter.”

Video:  Jacob Hummel says his party wants to see some movement on the Medicaid issue


Missouri’s Washington U tries to help patients cope with tinnitus

Washington University researchers might have found a way to help people who are bothered by hearing a constant noise deal with it.

Professor Jay Piccirillo, MD, professor of otolaryngology, and one of the participants in the tinnitus treatment study, Jacqueline Richardson (right).  (photo courtesy; Washington University School of Medicine)

Professor Jay Piccirillo, MD, professor of otolaryngology, and one of the participants in the tinnitus treatment study, Jacqueline Richardson (right). (photo courtesy; Washington University School of Medicine)

It’s called tinnitus; a condition in which patients hear a so-called phantom noise, often described as a buzzing, humming or tapping. About 80 percent of patients are able to essentially ignore it, but the other 20 percent have difficult concentrating. It interferes with work, sleep, and relationships.

Washington University School of Medicine researchers including Professor Jay Piccirillo came up a possible treatment to help people function in spite of the noise.

“If tinnitus patients were taking this drug and doing a brain training program to help strengthen the neurons, could the people on the drug actually do it faster than [those on] a placebo?” Piccirillo says the study asked.

It found that they could, and enjoyed, “a significant improvement in some tinnitus measure and a greater improvement in their self-reported cognitive problems. In other words, they were thinking better.”

The drug being used, d-cycloserine, encourages neuroplasticity – a state in which the brain is more susceptible to change. That meant it made the brain more receptive to the conditioning treatment patients underwent while using it.

“It does get into the central nervous system and works with the neurotransmitters to help the brain learn faster,” says Piccirillo.

Piccirillo emphasizes the treatment doesn’t actually fight the condition.

“All of our treatment’s been focused on getting people not to be bothered by it,” says Piccirillo. “Giving them the tools and techniques so that they can redirect away from the tinnitus and not focus on it, and not let it get in the way of their life.”

The original work only involved about 30 subjects using the brain training two days a week. He says the next step will be to repeat the experiment with a bigger test group, undergoing the treatment for longer periods.

“Using the brain fitness training program for five days instead of the shortened, abbreviated version, and see if we can get a better effect on tinnitus relief and improvement in cognition.”

The larger study would see if the same combination of the drug and the fitness program would yield the same benefits to a larger group of participants.

Bacteria causes recall of several brands of baby wipes

A company that makes baby wipes sold under multiple brand names and in multiple stores has issued a recall because some packages may contain bacteria.

Cuties brand wipes is one of those in the recall by Nutek.

Cuties brand wipes is one of those in the recall by Nutek.

The wipes recalled were manufactured under the brand names Cuties,, Femtex, Fred’s Kidgets, Member’s Mark, Simply Right, Sunny Smiles, Tender Touch and Well Beginnings.  They were online and at several store chains that have locations in Missouri.

The company, Nutek Disposables, Inc. of Pennsylvania, says it received complaints about odor and discoloration. Testing showed the presence of bacteria in some of those packages.

After an initial recall October 3, Nutek tested some of those products and decided to extend the recall to all of its baby wipe products.

The bacteria found is Burkholderia cepacia. Nutek says it poses little risk to healthy people, but those with weakened immune systems, chronic lung disease, or some other health problems are urged to call a doctor if they have used any of these products.

The company has received reports of rash, irritation, infections, fever and other issues but says it has not been confirmed those cases are related to the use of the affected products.

The cause of the problem is still under investigation and shipping of baby wipes has ceased from the facility where those lots were made.

For a list of the lot numbers in the recall and the original release from Nutek, click here.  The company says consumers who bought these products can return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Those with questions can call the company at (855) 646-4351 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday.

Senators: Is Missouri ready for Ebola? (AUDIO)

Some state lawmakers want to make sure state agencies have the resources and the authority they need to keep Ebola away from Missouri, or to deal with it if it shows up.

The Public Safety Department says is has a response plan in place to deal with any disaster–including a contagious disease outbreak. But it would take orders from the Health Department. Health director Gail Vasterling says the department has been keeping local responders and providers up to date, telling a panel of legislators,  “The Department..has since July sent out ten health alerts with regard to Ebola.”   Each one has a 24-hour hotline number that links hospitals and health workers  to the state or regional epidemiologists.

Gail Vasterling

Some Senators want the department to have power to order protocols to be followed when local reports of suspected Ebola cases are received. Some of them suggest Governor Nixon should impose travel bans although Vasterling says federal officials will tell the department if anyone from an infected country is coming to Missouri, and the department will have local officials keep an eye on them until the incubation period ends and arrange treatment if a case develops.

AUDIO: Hearing, part 1

AUDIO: Hearing, part 2